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Los  Angeles  gets  first 
Owens  River  Water,  1913 

Ranchers  dynamite 
aqueduct,  1927 

St.  Francis  Dam  fails,  1928 

Concreting  at 
Hoover  Dam,  1934 

Drought  intensifies 
Colorado  controversy,  1 948 

San  Francisco  fights  Colorado  flood,  1 906 

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San  Francisco,  California 

The  Water  Seekers 

by  Remi  A.  Nadeau     The  Water  Seekers  •  City-Makers 




Alabama  Gates 

v.  Death  Valley 

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Tunnel  .••.•;':".M.OJ*-;y.E. 

St  "Francis  Dam   ':''-       ,D   E' 




LaheMatherts  II  T  PALM  SPRING 





P     A    C  F          Cl 

FERRY  /Glen  Canyon  Dam  Site 

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Dam  Site 

Davi,s  Dam     a 

(JraniteReef  Dam 

CooJidge  Dam 


O    lite!: 



Copyright,   1950,  by  Remi  A.  Nadeau 

All  Rights  Reserved 

Printed  in  the  United  States 

at  the  Country  Life  Press,  Garden  City,  N.Y. 

First  Edition 

To  my  loving  wife,  Margaret 

Part  1 

The  Troublemaker,  3 

Winning  of  Owens  River,  21 

The  Big  Ditch,  44 

The  Seeds  of  Conflict,  63 

California's  Civil  War,  76 

"We  Who  Are  About  to  Die,"  93 

Flood  and  Drought,   115 

Part  2 

The  Desert  Blossoms,   137 
Runaway  River,   147 
Dividing  the  Waters,    167 
Tempest  in  Washington,    191 
A  Day  for  the  Engineers,   218 
California's  Lost  Battle,  245 
At  the  Last  Water  Hole,  256 
The  Water  Quest,   281 

Bibliography  and  Acknowledgments,  296 
Index,  303 

Part  1 

1:     The  Troublemaker 

Bleak  ruins  stand  today  in  the  cliff  country  of  southwestern 
Colorado  and  northeastern  Arizona,  uninhabited  for  more  than 
six  hundred  years.  From  the  time  of  Charlemagne  to  the  last 
Crusades  the  cliff  dwellers  flourished  there,  making  advances  in 
irrigation,  architecture,  rudimentary  engineering.  But,  beginning 
in  1276,  an  appalling  twenty- three-year  drought  struck  the  South- 
western country.  It  cut  the  roots  of  the  cliff  dwellers'  civilization. 
Defeated  by  nature,  they  moved  southward  in  quest  of  water, 
leaving  behind  the  shells  of  their  communities  in  the  Colorado 

In  the  sun-drenched  Gila  Valley  of  Arizona  are  the  remnants 
of  another  Southwestern  society — the  Hohokam  people.  A  thou- 
sand years  ago  they  had  achieved  an  advanced  civilization  through 
the  wise  use  of  water.  By  patient,  plodding  labor  they  built 
elaborate  canals  up  to  twenty-five  miles  long,  irrigating  more  land 
than  any  other  people  on  the  American  continent  in  their  time. 
They  were  fast  developing  an  agricultural  empire  of  the  kind 
which  founded  the  first-known  civilizations  of  the  Nile,  Tigris,  and 
Euphrates  valleys.  From  about  1450  the  Southwest  was  stricken 
once  more  with  long  years  of  drought.  The  great  irrigators  failed 
to  find  an  answer  to  the  terrible  water  famine  which  gripped  their 
homeland.  They  migrated  elsewhere,  leaving  their  parched  canals 
to  stand  unused  for  several  hundred  years. 

To  the  men  who  bear  the  responsibility  of  bringing  water  to 
the  giant  cities  and  agricultural  empires  of  the  modern  South- 
west these  stark  monuments  are  dreadful  admonitions.  They  offer 
unavoidable  reminders  that  in  this  corner  of  the  world  civilizations 
have  perished  in  ages  past  because  they  failed  to  solve  the  problem 
of  water.  For  despite  the  technical  complexity  of  our  own  South- 
western society,  in  one  way  it  is  more  dependent  on  water  than 
were  the  ancient  ones.  More  than  five  million  people  now 
subsist  in  a  region  where  native  sources  could  serve  only  a  few 
hundred  thousand.  Long,  slim  water  arteries,  with  their  dozens  of 
capillary  branches,  bring  the  country  its  lifeblood  from  as  far 
away  as  four  hundred  miles.  Extending  across  arid  desert  and 
through  mountain  ranges,  they  are  patrolled  and  maintained 
with  scrupulous  care.  Should  their  faithful  flow  be  choked  off  for 
more  than  a  few  months'  time  the  civilization  they  nourish  would 
have  to  migrate  as  surely  as  did  the  cliff  dwellers  and  the  Ho- 
hokam.  Thus  the  lack  of  water,  as  the  chief  obstacle  to  growth 
in  a  society  which  is  by  nature  determined  to  grow,  continues 
to  be  also  its  chief  problem. 

Since  the  beginnings  of  civilization  man  has  tended  to  thrive 
most  easily  in  regions  of  mild  climate,  where  scarcity  of  water 
provides  an  immediate  obstruction.  Evidently  it  has  been  easier 
to  search  for  water  than  to  fight  off  the  worst  inflictions  of  nature 
in  wetter  regions.  Thus  the  earliest  societies  in  the  eastern  Medi- 
terranean were  precariously  dependent  on  a  dogged  development 
of  water  supply.  Irrigating  canals  were  the  fundamental  source 
of  life  in  ancient  Egypt  and  Mesopotamia.  The  master  engineers 
of  Rome  supplied  their  city  with  a  dozen  aqueducts,  delivering 
water  from  sixty  miles  away. 

Until  the  rise  of  modern  cities  these  Roman  aqueducts  were 
unrivaled.  In  the  early  i6oos  the  spreading  metropolis  of  London 
turned  afield  for  more  water,  building  a  twenty-mile  conduit  from 
two  great  springs  in  Hertfordshire.  The  United  States  saw  its  first 
big  water  quest  when  the  rising  city  of  New  York,  bursting  with 
a  population  of  200,000,  launched  its  forty-mile  aqueduct  to  the 
Croton  watershed  in  1832.  On  its  completion  ten  years  later, 
most  New  Yorkers  agreed  with  the  earlier  prophecy  of  De  Witt 
Clinton:  "It  is  not  at  all  probable  that  the  city  will  ever  require 
more  than  it  can  provide." 

But  New  York  proceeded  to  ignore  his  words  and  perplex  her 
water  engineers  with  an  astonishing  growth.  Her  population  had 
passed  1,200,000  when  drought  struck  in  1880.  The  city  was 
separated  from  thirst  by  a  ten-day  water  supply  in  the  reservoirs 
when  timely  rains  forestalled  disaster.  Having  experienced  water 
famine,  New  York  lost  little  time  in  reaching  out  for  a  new 
supply.  A  second  aqueduct,  tapping  the  full  limit  of  the  Croton 
watershed,  was  finished  barely  in  time  to  save  the  city  from  an- 
other desperate  drought  in  1891. 

The  Big  Town's  resolute  expansion  sent  water  engineers 
farther  afield  by  the  early  19005.  A  hundred  miles  north  of  New 
York  lay  an  enormous  new  source  in  the  wooded  and  sparsely 
settled  Catskill  Mountains;  in  the  ten  years  from  1907  to  1917 
the  city  built  a  third  great  aqueduct  over  the  route,  more  than 
doubling  its  Croton  supply.  While  construction  was  in  progress 
another  drought  visited  New  York  in  191 1,  forcing  house-to-house 
checkups  on  leaky  faucets.  Only  by  careful  water  conservation  did 
its  citizens  hold  off  water  famine  until  the  completion  of  their 
Catskill  Aqueduct,  which  served  a  population  of  more  than 
5,000,000.  Outpacing  all  other  American  cities  in  size,  New 
York  was  also  pointing  the  way  in  the  business  of  seeking  water. 

It  is  in  the  western  two  thirds  of  the  United  States,  however, 
that  water  has  been  scarce  enough  to  call  forth  the  most  monu- 
mental aqueducts  the  world  has  ever  seen.  Finding  water  their 
greatest  limitation  in  the  arid  West,  Americans  have  gone  after  it 
with  typical  imagination  and  boldness.  Denver,  metropolis  of  the 
Rockies,  had  reached  the  end  of  its  local  water  sources  by  the 
close  of  the  nineteenth  century.  It  first  built  a  great  reservoir  in 
the  upper  reaches  of  the  Platte  River,  causing  such  a  rebirth  in 
local  irrigation  that  a  new  supply  was  imperative  by  the  early 
19205.  With  all  possibilities  exhausted  on  the  eastern  slope  of  the 
Rockies,  Denver  looked  in  desperation  beyond  the  Continental 
Divide.  By  1928  it  had  completed  a  giant  six-mile  bore,  parallel- 
ing the  famed  Moffat  railroad  tunnel,  to  tap  headwaters  of  the 
mighty  Colorado  River. 

California's  bustling  port  of  San  Francisco,  surrounded  by  the 
salt  water  of  its  own  magnificent  bay,  was  forced  to  go  abroad 
for  new  water  by  the  early  1 9003.  Across  the  wide  Central  Valley 
the  snowy  Sierra  Nevadas  beckoned  as  an  almost  limitless  water 

source.  Organizations  of  nature  lovers,  however,  fought  to  pre- 
serve the  proposed  reservoir  site  on  Tuolumne  River,  and  the  city 
did  not  get  the  necessary  land  grant  from  Congress  until  1913. 
After  spending  a  third  of  a  century  and  more  than  $100,000,000 
in  the  struggle,  San  Francisco  received  its  first  Sierra  water  from 
the  155-mile  Hetch  Hetchy  Aqueduct  in  October  1934. 

Yet  it  is  in  California's  southern  region  that  water  has  been 
the  most  important  history  maker.  Here  the  arid  Southwestern 
country  of  America  has  met  the  tempering  influence  of  the 
Pacific  Ocean.  The  wedding  of  these  two  factors  has  made 
Southern  California  one  of  the  most  desirable  spots  on  earth  to 
live  and  has  been  the  basic  impetus  for  an  irresistible  tide  of 
immigration.  But  these  same  climatic  factors  have  produced  a 
crucial  limitation — water.  Like  the  ancient  races  of  the  arid 
eastern  Mediterranean,  Southern  Californians  must  root  all 
growth  on  a  hard-won  water  foundation.  Their  long  campaign  for 
this  precious  element  has  extended  beyond  California's  own 
borders,  has  involved  the  ambitions  of  the  entire  West  and  the 
politics  of  the  nation.  To  a  large  extent  the  story  of  Southern 
California's  economic  development  is  the  story  of  its  water  quests 
and  its  water  fights.  Some  of  its  most  revered  heroes  are  the  bold 
water  men  who  went  to  far-off  rivers  and,  like  Hezekiah,  "made 
a  pool,  and  a  conduit,  and  brought  water  into  the  city.  .  .  ." 

Southern  California's  sparse  water  supply — less  than  two  per 
cent  of  the  state's  total — might  be  less  a  troublemaker  if  it  were 
delivered  evenly.  But  the  land  suffers  from  recurring  droughts, 
when  the  Los  Angeles  region  may  get  as  little  as  six  inches  of 
annual  rainfall.  And  in  the  wet  years  much  of  the  water  volume 
runs  to  waste  in  uncontrollable  floods,  inflicting  harsh  damage 
and  even  loss  of  lives  on  the  Southland  community. 

Its  greatest  recorded  deluge  struck  in  the  winter  of  1861-62. 
For  a  solid  month  following  Christmas  Eve  the  rain  fell  steadily; 
whole  vineyards  were  washed  away  or  buried  in  sand ;  water  ran 
four  feet  deep  through  the  newly  founded  town  of  Anaheim; 
adobe  stores  in  Los  Angeles  crumbled  under  the  onslaught,  while 
merchants  worked  frantically  in  water  up  to  their  waists  to  save 
their  goods. 

Every  few  years  another  such  flood  occurs,  each  one  made  more 

destructive  by  man's  effect  on  the  land.  Wherever  fields  have  been 
cleared  of  trees  or  brush,  wherever  forest  fires  have  bared  the 
hills,  the  soil's  ability  to  absorb  moisture  is  gone.  The  next  floods 
sweep  across  the  land,  forming  new  channels  and  gullies,  carrying 
houses  and  autos  out  to  sea  or  burying  them  in  sand. 

Eleven  inches  of  rain  fell  in  five  days  early  in  March  1938, 
pouring  savage  rivers  out  of  Southern  California  canyons.  The 
flood  was  smaller  in  volume  than  the  1 862  deluge,  but  an  empire 
of  3,000,000  people  now  nestled  where  several  thousand  had  lived 
before.  Montrose,  La  Canada,  and  other  communities  were 
inundated.  Eighty-one  persons  were  lost,  and  the  Los  Angeles 
region  was  suddenly  turned  into  a  disaster  area  of  rescue  crews, 
Red  Cross  stations,  and  soup  lines.  Great  flood  control  projects  are 
still  being  built  to  curb  the  worst  of  such  dangers,  but  the  problem 
will  remain  as  long  as  forest  fires  continue  to  scourge  the  Southern 
California  mountains. 

Alternating  with  the  wet  years  have  been  cycles  of  extreme 
drought,  leaving  Southland  farmers  without  a  constant  source 
of  water  for  the  confident  planting  of  crops.  The  drought  rather 
than  the  flood  years  have  shaped  Southern  California  develop- 
ment. A  year  after  the  flood  of  1861-62  a  drought  began  which 
hastened  the  last  days  of  California's  colorful  rancho  era.  For 
two  years  the  rains  failed.  Hills  which  were  ordinarily  covered 
with  green  native  grasses  in  winter  and  spring  were  parched  and 
sterile.  California's  great  herds  of  longhorn  cattle,  economic  basis 
of  its  languid  Spanish  period,  were  rudely  decimated.  From  the 
San  Joaquin  Valley  to  San  Diego  County,  thousands  of  carcasses 
littered  the  countryside.  The  calamity  wiped  out  the  Southland's 
cattle  and  brought  the  storied  "Days  of  the  Dons"  to  a  wretched 
and  inglorious  end. 

Out  of  the  ashes  of  Southern  California's  stock  industry  rose  a 
virile  agricultural  economy.  With  their  herds  gone  and  their  vast 
landholdings  burdened  with  delinquent  mortgages,  the  cattle 
barons  of  the  southern  ranges  had  no  course  but  to  sell  out.  They 
or  their  creditors  subdivided  the  ranches  through  the  late  sixties 
and  early  seventies,  and  the  near  vacuum  of  Southern  California 
began  to  fill  with  droves  of  eager  farm  families. 

Finding  little  reliable  water  aboveground,  they  turned  to  the 
region's  rich  underground  supply  to  test  the  truth  of  the  Spanish 

proverb  that  "the  rivers  of  California  run  bottom  upward."  In 
August  1868  the  first  artesian  well  in  Southern  California  was 
brought  in  near  Compton,  a  few  miles  south  of  Los  Angeles,  and 
before  the  end  of  the  decade  wells  were  sprouting  from  San  Ber- 
nardino to  the  coast.  Through  the  early  18705  the  windmill,  an 
innovation  then  appearing  across  the  entire  country,  dotted  the 
Southern  California  landscape  in  areas  where  underground  water 
had  to  be  pumped.  But  the  longest  recorded  drought  in  Southern 
California  history  began  in  1892,  and  for  twelve  years  farmers 
were  forced  to  make  heavy  drafts  on  ground  resources.  By  1904 
the  artesian  area  in  the  Southland  had  shrunk  by  thirty-five  per 
cent,  with  the  remaining  flow  seriously  weakened. 

Southern  California  farmers  had  already  learned  the  same  hard 
lesson  that  has  beset  irrigators  throughout  the  arid  Southwest: 
that  land  cannot  be  developed  to  the  limit  on  underground  water 
without  a  day  of  reckoning;  that  ground  sources  can  actually  pro- 
vide a  mature  farming  region  with  little  more  than  an  emergency 
supply;  and  that  the  only  consistent  method  of  developing  water 
reserves  is  to  control  the  surface  flow.  The  natural  alternation  of 
floods  and  droughts  is  against  man's  purposes.  If  he  can  dam  up 
the  huge  volumes  of  water  wasted  to  the  sea  in  flash  floods  and 
conserve  them  for  dry  years,  he  can  make  up  for  nature's  de- 

Irrigation  from  Southern  California's  streams,  actually  begun 
in  the  Mission  period,  was  launched  in  earnest  by  American 
grape  and  citrus  farmers  of  the  mid-nineteenth  century.  San  Ber- 
nardino, Anaheim,  and  Riverside  were  the  most  notable  forerun- 
ners of  a  whole  chain  of  irrigation  colonies  which  sprang  up  in 
the  i88os  along  the  Los  Angeles,  San  Gabriel,  and  Santa  Ana 
rivers.  Most  resourceful  developer  was  George  Chaffey,  a  Cana- 
dian irrigationist  with  a  bold  approach  to  engineering  problems. 
Together  with  other  enterprisers  he  founded  Etiwanda  in  1881, 
bringing  water  by  wooden  flume  and  concrete  pipe  from  a  can- 
yon in  the  San  Gabriel  Mountains.  Next  year  they  launched 
Ontario  on  the  same  pattern,  joining  Pomona  in  damming  the 
flow  of  San  Antonio  Canyon.  Chaffey  next  tapped  its  under- 
ground flow  with  a  3000-foot  tunnel — a  rare  feat  for  irrigation 
schemes  of  that  day — and  helped  to  make  Ontario  one  of  the 
model  agricultural  projects  of  the  West. 

Between  1 880  and  1 888  twenty-five  water  companies  sprang  up 
along  the  Sierra  Madre  vineyard  and  citrus  belt  in  pursuit  of 
Chaffey's  success.  East  of  Cajon  Pass  the  San  Bernardino  Moun- 
tains— highest  range  in  Southern  California — loomed  above 
10,000  feet  to  provide  enough  snow  water  for  some  monumental 
projects.  In  1883  the  new  community  of  Redlands  turned  to  the 
beetling  mountains  for  its  irrigation  supply  and  chose  an  ideal 
reservoir  site  in  Big  Bear  Valley.  It  would  require  little  construc- 
tion beside  the  dam,  as  the  water  could  simply  be  turned  down 
into  the  Santa  Ana  river  bed  to  be  diverted  by  existing  irrigation 
ditches.  By  the  end  of  1 884  a  narrow  rock  and  concrete  dam  was 
finished  just  inside  the  present  dam,  and  Big  Bear  Lake  was  born. 
From  then  on  a  bountiful  supply  of  stored  water  served  irri- 
gators  in  the  valley  below,  enabling  a  tremendous  farm  develop- 
ment in  the  frenzied  land  boom  of  1887.  The  ingenious  Redlands 
enterprise  had  proved  one  of  the  most  successful  in  Southern 

Then  the  drought  of  the  18903,  plus  the  financial  blow  of  a 
national  panic  in  1893,  struck  hard  at  the  Bear  Valley  project. 
One  of  the  new  farm  settlements  farther  down  the  Santa  Ana 
stream  bed  in  Riverside  County  sued  the  Bear  Valley  developers, 
and  the  case  labored  through  the  courts  for  years.  It  was  the  first 
round  in  a  recurring  battle  between  Redlands  and  Riverside 
water  users  which  has  persisted  to  the  present  day.  But  the  Big 
Bear  project,  improved  and  extended  over  the  years,  has  survived 
the  controversies.  Today  its  fame  as  a  year-round  resort  almost 
hides  from  Southern  Californians  its  primary  function  as  an  irri- 
gation development. 

Spurred  by  this  early  success,  another  group  of  enterprisers 
launched  a  more  elaborate  project  eleven  miles  westward  in  Little 
Bear  Valley.  Into  this  main  reservoir  site,  situated  on  the  north 
side  of  the  San  Bernardino  crest,  they  would  turn  the  runoff  of 
all  neighboring  creeks  by  means  of  inlet  tunnels.  Then  the  whole 
would  be  diverted  southward  through  a  long  outlet  tunnel  under 
the  ridge  and  into  the  San  Bernardino  Valley  below. 

But  from  its  inception  in  1891  the  imaginative  project  en- 
countered trouble.  About  1909  its  biggest  setback  came  when 
water  users  on  the  desert  side  protested  that  headwaters  of  their 
Mojave  River  could  not  legally  be  turned  out  of  the  watershed 

into  another  basin.  Some  three  years  later  the  state  Supreme 
Court,  in  another  case,  backed  their  stand.  Broken  by  this  re- 
verse, the  Little  Bear  group  vainly  attempted  one  alternate  plan 
after  another.  In  the  fall  of  1921  a  Los  Angeles  syndicate  finally 
bought  the  property  and  the  nearly  completed  reservoir,  changed 
its  name  from  Little  Bear  to  Arrowhead  Lake,  and  laid  out  one 
of  Southern  California's  most  famous  mountain  resorts.  Today 
the  bustling  Arrowhead  community  stands  as  the  robust  product 
of  an  ambitious  irrigation  project  that  failed  on  a  technicality. 

The  vagaries  of  California  water  law,  in  fact,  had  caused  more 
than  shattered  dreams  among  Southern  California's  rival  irriga- 
tion promoters.  So  many  new  communities  were  crowded  into  the 
citrus  belt  by  the  i88os  that  the  meager  California  streams  were 
plastered  with  overlapping  water  filings.  A  conflict  reared  be- 
tween the  adherents  of  the  Spanish  system  of  riparian  rights,  in 
which  landowners  along  a  stream  held  a  certain  share  of  its 
flow,  and  those  of  the  Western  American  system  of  prior  use — 
"first  in  time,  first  in  right" — regardless  of  location.  Settlements 
holding  the  riparian  rights  attached  to  the  ranchos  claimed  a 
complete  hold  on  stream  water,  while  those  less  favorably  located 
argued  that  use  alone  determined  rights.  It  was  a  last,  technical 
clash  between  the  merging  civilizations  of  Spanish  California  and 
the  American  West. 

By  1884  most  Southland  communities,  striving  for  a  water  foot- 
hold through  priority  rights,  were  campaigning  against  "riparian- 
ism"  as  a  deterrent  to  growth  and  progress.  When  the  state 
Supreme  Court  upheld  the  validity  of  riparian  rights,  these 
communities  raised  such  an  outcry  that  the  governor  called  the 
legislature  into  special  session.  Out  of  Sacramento  came  a  new 
law,  the  Wright  Act  of  1887,  which  created  a  device  to  defeat 
riparianism.  It  permitted  formation  of  another  type  of  local  gov- 
ernment— the  irrigation  district — which  was  given  the  right  to 
finance  water  systems  through  bond  issues  and  to  operate  them 
under  an  elective  board  of  directors.  Thus  great  land  projects, 
not  necessarily  contiguous  to  the  streams,  could  legally  tap  them 
for  water.  The  monopoly  of  the  riparian  owners  was  broken. 

Southern  California  embraced  the  Wright  Act  with  familiar 
enthusiasm.  Within  three  years  fifty  irrigation  districts  had  been 
formed  in  the  state — thirty-pne  in  the  southern  part.  Their  water 


bonds  were  eagerly  seized  by  investors,  and  dirt  began  to  fly  along 
new  irrigation  canals. 

Beginning  in  1893,  the  districts  faced  a  stiff  test  of  strength 
against  a  combination  of  reverses — a  national  financial  panic,  a 
Southwestern  drought,  and  finally  a  U.  S.  Circuit  Court  decision 
challenging  the  constitutionality  of  the  Wright  Act.  For  a  time 
one  district  after  another  collapsed,  filling  the  courts  with  credi- 
tors' suits.  But  when  the  Supreme  Court  upheld  the  Wright  Act 
the  remaining  districts  came  back  vigorously  and  sent  new  life 
into  Southern  California  agriculture.  Today  they  account  for  a 
big  majority  of  the  state's  irrigated  acreage. 

Meanwhile,  water  legislation  on  a  grand  scale  was  also  brewing 
in  Washington.  For  years  Western  irrigationists  had  realized  that, 
without  construction  of  large  reclamation  projects  by  the  govern- 
ment, agricultural  expansion  would  soon  reach  a  limit.  Since  1879 
the  U.  S.  Geological  Survey  had  been  measuring  stream  flows  and 
surveying  reservoir  sites  for  possible  future  development.  But  by 
the  18905  a  powerful  agitation  was  rising  in  the  West  for  a  pro- 
gram of  federal  reclamation.  Most  persistent  of  all  were  the 
energetic  settlers  in  Arizona's  rich  Salt  River  Valley,  where  irri- 
gation by  the  white  man  had  been  expanding  since  the  first  canal 
was  dug  in  1868.  With  the  drought  of  the  nineties  the  farmers 
of  the  Phoenix  area  began  to  contend  bitterly  over  water  rights. 
It  was  plain  that  only  the  storage  of  floodwaters  at  the  huge 
Tonto  Basin  reservoir  site  could  permit  any  further  growth  in 
Arizona's  fertile  heartland. 

Led  by  a  glib  crusader  named  George  H.  Maxwell,  Arizona's 
water  users  threw  themselves  into  the  forefront  of  the  national 
reclamation  campaign.  They  waged  an  uphill  fight  until  Theodore 
Roosevelt  came  to  the  White  House.  Knowing  at  first  hand  the 
West's  dependence  on  water,  he  was  a  ready  ally  of  the  irri- 
gationists, and  helped  to  secure  passage  of  the  National  Reclama- 
tion Act  in  1902.  It  authorized  federal  construction  of  irrigation 
projects,  to  be  financed  by  sale  of  public  lands  and  repayment 
from  benefited  farmers.  And  to  administer  it  a  new  agency  was 
created — the  United  States  Reclamation  Service.  Here  at  last 
was  the  grand  charter  of  public  reclamation  in  the  arid  West. 

Available  for  immediate  use  as  the  program's  first  big  effort 
was  the  Salt  River  Valley  project,  already  surveyed  and  approved 

by  one  of  the  rising  young  engineers  of  the  service,  Arthur  P.  Davis. 
As  soon  as  the  legal  and  administrative  difficulties  had  been 
solved  by  the  formation  of  a  governing  Water  Users  Association, 
the  dam  site  at  Tonto  Basin  began  to  echo  with  the  roar  and 
tumult  of  construction.  Early  in  1911  the  giant  structure  was 
finished  and  named  for  Theodore  Roosevelt,  who  was  on  hand 
to  address  the  jubilant  Arizona  throng  at  the  dedication  cere- 

Backing  up  the  world's  largest  artificial  lake  of  its  day,  Roose- 
velt Dam  and  its  related  works  allowed  a  virile  new  farm 
expansion  in  the  Salt  River  Valley  and  a  fresh,  mushroom  growth 
to  the  city  of  Phoenix.  It  was  Arizona's  proudest  man-made 
possession  as  she  ascended  to  statehood  in  1912.  And  as  one  of  the 
first  products  of  the  new  Reclamation  Service,  it  opened  a 
long  and  relentless  campaign  to  reap  the  greatest  use  of  the 
West's  slim  water  resources. 

Yet  in  the  farthest  corner  of  the  Southwest  a  civilization  was 
now  rising  which  would  need  more  than  irrigation  projects  for 
continued  expansion.  Since  the  boom  of  the  i88os,  which  had 
launched  dozens  of  new  communities  and  made  full-fledged  cities 
out  of  many  of  the  old,  it  was  plain  that  in  the  future  the  prime 
duty  of  the  Southwest's  water  supply  would  be  for  municipal 

San  Diego  was  the  first  city  to  meet  its  new  water  necessities 
with  imaginative  action.  Although  the  padres  at  San  Diego 
Mission  had  achieved  the  first  successful  irrigation  in  California, 
the  community  had  since  borne  a  reputation  throughout  the 
state  for  water  scarcity.  But  the  dynamic  boom  of  the  eighties 
suddenly  stirred  San  Diegans  to  abandon  the  primitive  develop- 
ment of  shoreward  wells  and  creeks.  Instead  they  turned  with 
enthusiasm  to  a  more  bountiful  supply  in  the  nearby  mountains 
which  had  previously  been  their  greatest  liability. 

By  the  summer  of  1886  surveys  had  been  started  on  a  huge 
scheme — originally  laughed  at  in  San  Diego — to  build  a  thirty- 
one-mile  flume  to  the  city  from  the  headwaters  of  the  San  Diego 
River.  Less  than  three  years  later  the  formidable  project  was 
finished;  when  San  Diegans  turned  out  for  the  opening  cele- 
bration on  February  22,  1889,  distinguished  officials  proceeded  to 


ride  in  boats  down  the  winding  wooden  flume  from  Cuyamaca 
Dam  to  the  bay.  This  fresh  source,  supplying  the  city's  great  new 
population  gained  in  the  boom,  came  barely  in  time  for  the 
drought  of  the  nineties.  From  then  on  San  Diego  has  busied  her- 
self building  one  reservoir  after  another  in  the  mountains  at  her 
back,  trying  desperately  to  keep  up  with  an  irresistible  population 
influx  which  has  made  water  her  number  one  problem. 

The  inescapable  fact  which  water  officials  of  all  Southern 
California  cities  have  had  to  face  is  that,  no  matter  how  far  they 
develop  local  sources,  there  is  simply  not  enough  rainfall  in  the 
region  to  satisfy  its  needs.  The  average  annual  yield  at  Los 
Angeles  is  little  more  than  fifteen  inches,  while  in  regular  periods 
of  drought  it  has  dropped  as  low  as  five  and  a  half  inches. 

One  of  the  first  methods  by  which  Southern  California  chose  to 
combat  this  dilemma  was  rain  making — a  unique  profession  of 
which  George  M.  Hatfield  was  the  most  celebrated  practitioner. 
Contracting  with  cities  and  farmers  to  produce  rain  within  a 
certain  time,  he  would  set  up  his  mysterious  "evaporating  tanks" 
in  the  neighborhood  and  send  volumes  of  chemical  fumes  into  the 
air  to  assault  passing  rain  clouds.  From  1903  until  the  mid- 
twenties  he  was  engaged  as  a  rain  maker  by  communities  from 
San  Joaquin  Valley  to  San  Diego.  Whether  he  was  a  highly 
fortunate  quack  or  a  practical  scientist  ahead  of  his  time  was 
never  quite  determined  by  Southern  Californians.  But  his  repeated 
and  often  spectacular  successes  made  him  a  fabulous  South- 
western character  in  his  day. 

On  at  least  one  occasion  Hatfield's  magic  got  completely  out 
of  hand.  Late  in  1915,  after  months  of  dry  weather,  he  contracted 
with  San  Diego  "to  fill  Morena  Reservoir  to  overflow  between 
now  and  next  December  20,  1916.  .  .  ."  While  this  arrangement 
gave  nature  ample  time  to  assist,  Hatfield  quickly  launched  his 
offensive.  He  had  scarcely  begun  when  the  heavens  opened  up  in 
January  1916  and  loosed  the  greatest  flood  in  San  Diego's  history. 
It  filled  the  reservoir  to  overflowing,  washed  out  another  dam 
farther  downstream,  and  inundated  the  lower  outskirts  of  San 
Diego.  That  the  Noachian  deluge  was  not  primarily  Hatfield's 
responsibility  was  evidenced  by  equally  devastating  floods  in  the 
same  month  as  far  away  as  Los  Angeles  and  the  Colorado  River. 
But  the  San  Diego  City  Council  blamed  Hatfield  for  a  disastrous 

miscarriage,  refused  to  pay  his  $10,000  fee,  and  successfully  de- 
fended its  action  in  court. 

"We  told  you  merely  to  fill  the  reservoir,"  admonished  the 
council,  "not  to  flood  the  community." 

Such  freak  efforts  are  only  a  burlesque  of  the  prolonged  and 
deadly  business  of  water  development  which  Southern  California 
officials  have  pursued  year  after  year.  Los  Angeles,  as  the  region's 
metropolis,  has  written  its  most  colorful  and  dynamic  water 
history.  It  is  through  this  very  water  pursuit,  in  fact,  that  Los 
Angeles  has  been  able  to  outgrow  every  city  west  of  Chicago. 
Since  1913,  when  it  contained  roughly  400,000  people,  its 
growth  has  been  founded  on  water  brought  from  sources  two 
to  four  hundred  miles  away.  In  following  this  unique  quest  it 
has  engaged  in  some  conflicts  which  have  rocked  the  entire  South- 

Since  its  founding  in  the  late  eighteenth  century  Los  Angeles 
has  had  to  fight  for  water.  Holding  rights  to  the  Los  Angeles 
River  through  an  ancient  Spanish  ordinance,  it  soon  encountered 
competition  for  its  use  from  nearby  San  Fernando  Mission. 
Around  the  present  North  Hollywood  the  padres  dammed  the 
river  for  irrigation  purposes,  and  Los  Angeles  rose  in  anger  at  its 
own  diminished  supply.  Only  after  a  bitter  legal  battle  did  the 
pueblo  secure  the  dam's  removal  in  1810. 

By  the  i86os  Los  Angeles  was  moving  toward  another  and 
more  desperate  water  wrangle.  Driven  by  the  need  for  a  better 
distributing  system  than  open  ditches  and  water  carts,  the  City 
Council  offered  inducements  to  enterprisers  who  would  lay  an 
underground  pipe  system  through  the  town.  The  first  stalwart  to 
take  the  job  installed  wooden  pipes  that  leaked  abundantly  and 
formed  great  mudholes  in  the  streets.  Then  he  started  a  new 
system  of  iron  pipes,  fed  by  a  reservoir  in  the  Los  Angeles  River 
and  a  giant  water  wheel  which  lifted  the  flow  up  from  the  city's 
main  water  ditch,  the  zanja  madre.  When  the  flood  of  1867-68 
washed  out  his  dam  the  contractor  relinquished  all  connection 
with  the  exasperating  Los  Angeles  water  works. 

His  interest  was  taken  over  by  three  local  enterprisers,  in- 
cluding Prudent  Beaudry,  one  of  the  first  merchants  and  de- 
velopers in  Los  Angeles.  They  promptly  offered  to  complete  the 
new  system  and  pay  the  city  a  modest  yearly  rental  in  return  for 


a  thirty-year  lease  on  the  Los  Angeles  water  works  and  rights. 
A  furious  public  opposition  greeted  the  move.  Two  other  factions 
offered  competing  proposals,  both  of  which  substantially  under- 
bid the  Beaudry  offer.  But  when  the  City  Council  came  to  pass  the 
measure  on  July  20,  1868,  the  president  silenced  protests  with 
the  admonition,  "We  don't  care  to  hear  any  speeches."  The  city's 
precious  water  rights  were  then  turned  over  to  private  hands  in 
one  of  the  first  skirmishes  of  the  long  contest  between  public  and 
private  ownership  of  Los  Angeles  utilities. 

For  an  annual  rental  of  four  hundred  dollars  and  a  modest 
amount  of  construction,  Beaudry's  company  exercised  control  of 
the  city's  water  for  a  length  of  time  which  spanned  all  the  events 
of  her  tumultuous  early  growth — the  coming  of  the  railroads, 
the  great  boom  of  1887,  the  fight  for  the  modern  harbor  at  San 
Pedro,  the  development  of  a  huge  citrus  industry,  and  the  dis- 
covery of  oil.  From  a  population  of  about  4500  when  the  company 
acquired  its  works  in  1868,  Los  Angeles  had  sprouted  to  nearly 
100,000  by  the  time  the  lease  expired  in  1898.  Thus  when  the 
city  officials  chose  to  take  back  the  water  system  the  company 
fought  to  retain  such  a  valuable  asset.  But  after  long  negotiations 
and  a  hotly  contested  bond  election  it  turned  over  the  sprawling 
establishment  to  the  city  for  $2,000,000  in  February  1902. 

Beaudry  and  his  original  associates  had  not  lived  to  benefit  by 
the  transaction,  but  their  places  had  been  taken  by  others  who 
had  found  themselves  caught  in  an  unwelcome  struggle  to  keep 
the  mushrooming  city  supplied  with  water.  To  them  fell  the 
responsibility  and  the  credit  for  a  desperate  development  of  local 
sources  at  a  time  when  the  city's  population  was  zooming  and  the 
river's  water  volume  was  fading  from  drought.  One  of  their 
employees,  the  company  superintendent,  lived  to  become  the 
water  hero  of  Los  Angeles  and  one  of  the  most  noted  engineers 
in  the  world. 

William  Mulholland,  a  young  Irish  immigrant,  had  first  reached 
Southern  California  in  January  1877,  debarking  at  San  Pedro 
with  ten  dollars  in  his  pocket  and  the  resolve  to  "grow  with  the 
country."  At  sight  of  the  young  town  of  Los  Angeles,  with  its 
pleasant  climate  and  its  surrounding  display  of  flourishing  crops, 
he  saw  immediately  that  a  magnificent  future  could  be  limited  by 
only  one  factor. 


"Whoever  brings  the  water,"  he  is  said  to  have  remarked, 
"will  bring  the  people." 

Though  possessing  a  native  shrewdness  and  an  irrepressible 
enthusiasm,  Mulholland  was  then  an  unsettled  youth  of  twenty- 
two,  with  little  education  and  no  firm  foothold  in  a  career.  He 
had  first  left  his  Dublin  home  to  become  a  sailor,  but  after  four 
years  had  given  up  the  sea  and  emigrated  to  America.  On  reaching 
Southern  California  he  was  caught  in  the  mining  fever  of  the 
day  and  spent  an  unsuccessful  year  prospecting  in  Arizona.  After 
returning  to  Los  Angeles,  he  got  a  job  drilling  a  water  well  near 
the  harbor,  and  was  so  impressed  with  the  thrill  of  developing 
nature's  resources  that  he  resolved  then  and  there  to  become  an 
engineer.  It  was  a  major  decision  in  his  life,  and  one  which  im- 
mediately marked  the  end  of  his  wanderings. 

Of  necessity  Mulholland  started  at  the  bottom  as  a  zanjero, 
or  ditch  tender,  with  the  privately  owned  Los  Angeles  City  Water 
Company.  He  first  lived  in  a  one-room  wooden  shack  at  the 
present  location  of  the  Mulholland  memorial  fountain  at  Los 
Feliz  and  Riverside  Drive;  his  job  was  to  keep  the  main  zanja 
madre,  which  flowed  by  his  house,  clear  of  weeds  and  debris. 

Mulholland's  energetic  shovel  wielding  was  noticed  one  day 
by  the  water  company's  president,  who  stopped  his  carriage  and 
abruptly  demanded  who  the  zanjero  was  and  what  he  was  doing. 
Mulholland,  never  a  man  to  suffer  imposition,  looked  over  the 
side  of  the  ditch  and  shouted  that  it  was  none  of  the  intruder's 
damned  business.  The  president  drove  on,  and  when  Mulholland's 
fellow  workmen  told  him  whom  he  had  rebuffed  he  dropped  his 
shovel,  donned  his  coat,  and  went  to  the  company  office  to 
"get  my  time"  before  being  fired.  But  the  president,  who  evi- 
dently appreciated  both  industry  and  spirit  in  his  subordinates, 
started  Mulholland  on  his  ascendancy  by  making  him  foreman 
of  the  company's  ditch  gang. 

Through  the  early  i88os  Mulholland  worked  by  day  in  the 
Water  Department  and  studied  by  night  to  prepare  himself  for 
advancement.  Thomas  Brooks,  who  roomed  with  him  in  modest 
quarters  near  the  Plaza,  still  recalls  that  in  the  evenings  Mul- 
holland used  to  lull  him  to  sleep  with  his  endess  fund  of  humorous 
stories,  and  would  then  stay  up  as  late  as  3  A.M.  reading  geometry 
and  engineering  books. 


It  was  the  beginning  of  an  amazing  self-imposed  education 
which  helped  to  make  Mulholland  one  of  the  most  paradoxical 
characters  in  a  city  which  has  never  been  known  for  conformity. 
On  the  one  hand  he  displayed  a  refined  taste  for  literature  and 
classical  music,  a  profound  appreciation  for  the  beauties  of 
nature,  and  a  deep  Christian  faith  founded  on  simple  confidence 
in  the  basic  good  in  man.  On  the  other,  he  was  a  fellow  of  rough 
temperament  and  rougher  speech,  whose  repertoire  of  swear 
words  and  ribald  jokes  would  shame  a  mule  skinner.  The  Los 
Angeles  Water  Department  staff  still  chuckles  over  his  priceless 
stories  and  astonishing  observations.  When  a  citizen  once  wrote  to 
the  Los  Angeles  water  commissioners  and  admiringly  referred 
to  the  superintendent  as  a  "water  witch,"  Mulholland  offered  the 
relatively  mild  comment  that,  while  he  had  never  been  called  that 
before,  he  had  often  been  called  "something  that  rhymes  with  it." 

When  Mulholland  became  superintendent  of  the  water  system 
in  1 886  he  brought  to  the  organization  a  spirit  of  practical  order- 
liness. As  a  manager  he  maintained  efficiency  among  his  sub- 
ordinates by  a  gruff  and  commanding  exterior.  Yet  the  under- 
standing heart  which  they  detected  underneath,  and  the  ready 
defense  he  gave  them  whenever  criticism  came  from  an  outsider, 
earned  "the  Chief"  an  intense  loyalty  from  his  men.  Nor  did 
Mulholland  exclude  himself  in  his  exacting  discipline;  rising  in 
the  early  hours,  he  worked  on  a  punctual  schedule  and  set  an 
energetic  pace  which  his  employees  were  scarcely  able  to  follow. 

Having  few  outside  interests,  Mulholland's  contentment  was 
founded  on  two  rocks :  his  large  and  congenial  family,  and  a  keen 
pride  in  his  task  as  official  water  seeker  to  a  great  city.  While  at 
times  drawing  the  largest  salary  of  any  Los  Angeles  employee,  he 
cared  little  for  money  or  material  possessions.  It  is  said  that  a 
clerk  who  was  once  cleaning  out  Mulholland's  desk  unearthed  a 
check  for  $6000  which  had  been  set  aside  and  forgotten. 

The  Chief,  in  fact,  never  felt  at  home  behind  a  desk. 
Leaving  paperwork  to  others,  he  spent  most  of  his  daylight 
hours  in  the  field.  Years  of  constructing  and  inspecting  the  city's 
water  works  were  revealed  in  his  sun-tanned  face  and  rugged 
features.  Such  firsthand  experience,  together  with  his  own  natural 
confidence,  yielded  Mulholland  the  complete  trust  of  Los  Angeles 
citizens.  The  most  important  decisions  and  policies  were  made  by 


the  City  Council  members  on  his  simple  recommendation.  "They 
have  always  been,"  he  once  said,  "in  the  habit  of  taking  my  word." 

Mulholland  faced  his  first  big  crisis  when  the  drought  of  the 
18905  hit  Los  Angeles.  The  danger  was  not  at  first  apparent,  for 
while  the  region  was  gripped  by  almost  rainless  seasons  the  slow 
percolation  process  in  the  basin  of  the  Los  Angeles  River  allowed 
several  years  to  pass  before  the  flow  faded.  Mulholland  believed 
that  the  local  development  of  springs  and  other  sources  would 
meet  the  emergency. 

But  a  warning  that  the  local  supply  would  never  suffice  came 
from  Fred  Eaton,  a  native  Angeleno  whose  vigorous  public 
career  had  made  him  a  leading  figure  in  the  city's  water  problems. 
Son  of  a  forty-niner  who  had  helped  to  found  Pasadena,  Eaton'? 
rise  in  Los  Angeles  politics  had  been  spectacular.  Like  Mulholland, 
he  was  a  self-educated  engineer  and,  as  Mulholland's  prede- 
cessor in  the  post  of  Los  Angeles  water  superintendent,  had  en- 
couraged him  to  study  hydraulics  and  fit  himself  for  promotion. 
Exactly  a  day  apart  in  age,  Eaton  and  Mulholland  became  hearty 
companions,  each  appreciating  the  other's  ability  and  ready 

Thus  after  Eaton's  election  as  city  engineer  in  1886,  he  never 
lost  contact  with  Mulholland  and  the  city's  water  situation. 
During  the  drought  of  the  nineties  he  launched  a  personal  quest 
for  an  outside  water  source  for  Los  Angeles.  By  the  time  Eaton 
swept  into  the  mayor's  office  in  1899  he  had  reconnoitered  as 
far  as  the  Kings  River  in  the  Sierras,  and  even  to  the  distant 
Colorado.  The  first  he  dismissed  as  yielding  too  little  water  by 
any  gravity  aqueduct;  the  second  was  altogether  too  costly  a 
possibility  for  a  city  of  less  than  100,000  people. 

As  early  as  1892,  however,  Eaton  had  visited  another  source 
over  two  hundred  miles  northward  in  Inyo  County — the  bounti- 
ful Owens  River  which  drained  much  of  the  eastern  Sierra  slope. 
Here  in  the  serene  and  mountainbound  Owens  Valley,  first  won 
from  warring  Paiutes  in  the  1 86os,  a  pioneer  community  had  been 
abiding  for  a  generation.  Originally  supported  by  flourishing  cattle 
and  mining  industries,  the  valley  had  subsisted  on  a  rising  agri- 
cultural economy  since  the  first  big  irrigation  ditches  were  built 
in  the  late  18705.  On  this  foundation  a  series  of  farm  communities 
sprang  up,  from  Lone  Pine  and  Independence  in  the  lower 

valley  to  Big  Pine  and  Bishop  in  the  more  developed  northern 
end.  By  the  time  Eaton  saw  the  valley  so  much  water  was  being 
diverted  by  the  resourceful  farmers  that  the  level  was  already 
beginning  to  sink  in  Owens  Lake,  the  expanse  of  briny  water  at 
the  river's  lower  end. 

Eaton  returned  to  Los  Angeles  and  described  the  region  as  a 
magnificent  source  to  his  friend  Mulholland.  In  1892,  however, 
the  drought  had  scarcely  begun,  and  the  Chief  laughed  at  the 
need  for  any  water  beside  the  Los  Angeles  River,  which  had 
served  the  community  well  during  his  fifteen  years  in  California. 

"We  have  enough  water  here  in  the  river,"  Mulholland  chided, 
"to  supply  the  city  for  the  next  fifty  years." 

"You  are  wrong,"  Eaton  replied.  "I  was  born  here  and  have 
seen  dry  years — years  that  you  know  nothing  about.  Wait  and 

During  the  decade  of  drought  that  followed,  as  Mulholland 
himself  described  it,  "our  population  climbed  to  the  top  and 
the  bottom  appeared  to  drop  out  of  the  river."  In  an  attempt  to 
develop  its  last  drop  of  moisture,  Mulholland  had  already 
launched  a  plan  to  catch  the  underground  flow  by  a  system  of 
infiltration  galleries.  But  the  strategic  spot  for  the  headworks, 
situated  in  the  narrows  between  the  Cahuenga  and  Verdugo 
hills,  was  owned  by  two  private  enterprisers  who  asked  an 
extreme  price  for  their  land  and  water  rights. 

Los  Angeles  moved  to  condemn  the  property,  claiming  rights  to 
the  entire  river  and  the  underground  basin  by  virtue  of  its 
original  Spanish  pueblo  grant.  After  a  six-year  legal  battle  the 
celebrated  case  of  Los  Angeles  vs.  Pomeroy  and  Hooker  was 
settled  by  the  state  Supreme  Court  in  1899.  The  city  won  the 
last  and  most  far-reaching  suit  in  a  legal  defense  of  the  Los 
Angeles  River  which  had  lasted  nearly  a  century.  Henceforth 
it  held  rights  to  all  water  in  the  basin  needed  for  its  municipal 
supply,  and  could  even  prevent  farmers  upstream  from  pumping 
water  from  wells.  The  San  Fernando  Valley,  then  witnessing  the 
beginnings  of  irrigation,  found  its  development  abruptly  cut  off 
and  its  future  condemned. 

Already,  however,  the  fruits  of  the  city's  victory  were  fading  in 
relentless  drought.  Nature  herself  had  attacked  the  Los  Angeles 
River,  and  she  was,  as  Mulholland  commented,  "beyond  the 


reach  of  mundane  law  and  exempt  from  suit."  At  first  his  frantic 
pursuit  of  improvements  was  hindered  by  the  water  company's 
unwillingness  to  spend  money  while  negotiations  were  pending 
for  sale  to  the  city.  But  in  February  1902  the  transaction  was  com- 
plete; Mulholland  and  his  staff  were  retained  in  charge,  and  im- 
mediately mended  their  water  defenses.  The  infiltration  galleries 
were  built  to  catch  all  the  underground  flow  of  the  Los  Angeles 
River,  while  meters  were  introduced  for  factories  and  other  heavy 
users  to  reduce  consumption. 

Yet  the  continued  drought  drove  the  Los  Angeles  River  down 
to  a  new  low  by  the  summer  of  1903.  In  mid- July  the  city's  con- 
sumption began  to  exceed  the  inflow  into  its  reservoirs,  which  were 
able  to  hold  little  more  than  a  two-day  supply.  Mulholland  im- 
mediately ordered  drinking  water  pumped  from  the  zanja  madre, 
the  community's  main  irrigation  ditch.  Still  the  rate  of  use  out- 
ran the  supply.  Actual  water  famine  was  only  averted  by  periodic 
letups  in  the  hot  spell,  when  temporary  drops  in  consumption 
allowed  the  reservoirs  to  fill  again.  Mulholland  reported  that  but 
for  the  metering  of  the  most  wasteful  users  the  reservoirs  would 
have  gone  dry. 

Already,  in  fact,  the  Chief  was  turning  in  desperation  to  under- 
ground sources  with  a  large  pumping  plant  below  the  city.  But, 
as  in  the  case  of  numerous  other  wells  in  the  area,  this  only  aided 
the  ten-year  drought  in  lowering  the  water  table.  It  soon  became 
clear  that  at  the  current  rate  of  growth  Los  Angeles  was  not  only 
approaching  its  own  limit  but  was  entering  into  a  contest  for 
water  with  outlying  agricultural  districts.  Already  San  Fernando 
Valley — rendered  barren  by  city  lawsuits  to  prevent  the  pumping 
of  water — stood  as  an  example  of  sacrifice  before  the  prior  neces- 
sity of  Los  Angeles. 

By  1904  the  sprouting  city  was  close  to  actual  thirst.  During 
the  heat  of  the  summer  there  was  no  water  available  for  park 
ponds,  and  as  Mulholland  reported,  "It  might  as  well  be  made 
known  that  it  is  not  probable  there  ever  will  be  in  the  future." 
Beginning  on  July  20,  a  severe  hot  spell  brought  a  ten  per  cent 
rise  in  consumption  over  supply.  The  reservoirs  were  half  emptied 
in  ten  days.  Mulholland  sent  out  warnings  against  lawn  sprinkling 
and  other  excessive  use.  Public  reaction  and  a  timely  relief  in  the 
heat  wave  lowered  consumption  enough  to  allow  the  reservoirs 


to  be  replenished.  Once  more  Los  Angeles  had  escaped  actual 
thirst,  but  only  by  Mulholland's  rare  ingenuity. 

While  the  Chief  took  on  heroic  stature  among  Los  Angeles 
citizens  as  a  water  magician,  they  were  more  impressed  by  another 
realization.  Their  city's  spectacular  growth,  and  its  exuberant 
plans  for  future  greatness,  had  now  been  cut  off  for  lack  of  water. 
The  hopes  for  increased  expansion  that  had  been  raised  by  devel- 
opment of  Henry  Huntington's  new  Pacific  Electric  transit  sys- 
tem, the  Los  Angeles  Harbor,  the  latest  Eastern  rail  connection 
via  Salt  Lake,  would  never  be  fulfilled.  The  belief  by  Huntington 
and  other  enthusiasts  that  Los  Angeles  was  destined  to  be  "the 
most  important  city  in  the  country,  if  not  in  the  world"  was  now 
exploded  like  a  promoter's  dream. 

If  Los  Angeles  apparently  stood  at  the  end  of  her  resources, 
Mulholland  did  not.  In  desperation  he  remembered  Fred  Eaton's 
mention  of  a  water  source  in  the  Sierras.  While  Los  Angeles  reeled 
from  the  water  famine  of  July  1904,  Mulholland  went  to  Eaton 
and  asked  him  to  "show  me  this  water  supply."  It  was  the  begin- 
ning of  a  monumental  adventure  which  would  rejuvenate  a 
stunted  city,  precipitate  the  West's  most  tumultuous  water  war, 
and  incidentally  catch  up  and  determine  the  lives  of  the  two 

2:     Winning  of  Owens  River 

By  the  time  Mulholland  turned  to  Eaton's  suggestion  the  water 
potentialities  of  Owens  Valley  had  been  discovered  by  no  less  a 
force  than  the  United  States  Government.  Engineers  of  the  young 
Reclamation  Service,  turning  with  gusto  to  the  initial  task  of  sur- 
veying the  West's  potential  irrigation  projects,  had  entered  the 
valley  in  June  1903.  They  found  not  only  an  ideal  reservoir  site 
at  Long  Valley,  just  north  of  Owens  Valley,  but  also  a  farming 
community  thriving  on  a  new-found  market  in  the  booming 
Tonopah  gold  mines  of  Nevada.  As  soon  as  Owens  Valley's  alert 
citizens  realized  the  purpose  of  the  government  surveying  party, 
they  virtually  exploded  with  enthusiasm.  After  languishing  for 
decades  because  of  its  isolated  position  between  the  Sierras  and 

the  great  Southwestern  desert,  Owens  Valley  seemed  ready — in 
the  conviction  of  its  people — to  blossom  as  a  large-scale  agri- 
cultural empire. 

In  Fred  Eaton's  view,  the  situation  called  for  strategy.  To 
get  a  closer  view  of  the  government's  plans,  he  turned  to  one 
of  his  many  friends,  Joseph  B.  Lippincott,  chief  of  Reclamation 
Service  operations  in  the  Southwest.  A  noted  builder  of  irrigation 
systems  throughout  California,  Lippincott  had  long  been  an  ad- 
viser on  water  matters  for  cities  from  Denver  to  Los  Angeles.  He 
was  one  of  those  gaunt  but  tireless  workers  whose  energy  seems 
to  come  from  nowhere.  A  careful  technician,  somewhat  colorless 
in  personality,  Lippincott  was  essentially  a  serious-minded  engi- 
neer, one  of  the  best  known  in  Southern  California.  It  was  not 
surprising  that,  when  he  headed  for  the  Owens  River  in  August 
1904  to  inspect  the  federal  investigations,  Fred  Eaton  was  one 
of  several  friends  accompanying  him  for  an  "outing"  in  the 

Journeying  to  Yosemite,  they  crossed  the  Sierras  by  pack  train 
over  Tioga  Pass;  at  Mono  Lake  they  met  J.  C.  Clausen,  the  young 
California  engineer  who  had  charge  of  the  government  surveys. 
Riding  southward  with  them  into  the  Owens  River  country,  Clau- 
sen gave  Lippincott  an  enthusiastic  report  on  the  yearlong  in- 
vestigation. His  words  did  not  fall  unheeded  by  Fred  Eaton.  By 
the  time  the  group  reached  Long  Valley,  which  Clausen  had  rec- 
ognized as  the  natural  reservoir  site  for  an  Owens  Valley  reclama- 
tion project,  Eaton  knew  the  government  had  a  feasible  irrigation 
project  which  would  obstruct  any  outside  use  of  the  water  once  it 
was  approved  in  Washington  and  dam  construction  was  begun. 
If  Los  Angeles  was  to  gain  this  vast  watershed  for  its  own  he  must 
act — and  quickly. 

But  if  Eaton's  mind  was  racing  ahead  during  the  party's  labori- 
ous recrossing  of  the  Sierras,  Lippincott  and  his  other  companions 
are  said  to  have  been  ignorant  of  his  monumental  scheme.  Back 
in  Los  Angeles,  Eaton  confided  to  William  Mulholland  that  the 
city  must  move  immediately  if  it  intended  to  stake  a  claim  in 
Owens  River.  Within  a  week  after  his  return  Eaton  was  on  his 
way  north  again  to  show  the  water  supply  to  Mulholland. 

Driving  a  two-horse  buckboard,  the  two  friends  "roughed  it" 
across  the  Mojave  Desert,  camping  in  the  open  and  living  on 


simple  rations  of  bacon  and  beans.  On  September  24  they  stood 
in  the  shadow  of  the  massive  Sierras,  two  hundred  and  fifty  miles 
from  Los  Angeles,  while  Eaton  showed  Mulholland  a  placid  val- 
ley of  green  fields  and  abundant  water.  In  the  meandering  Owens 
River  and  its  tributaries  flowed  at  least  400  cubic  feet  of  water 
per  second — enough  to  provide  a  city  of  2,000,000  people. 

The  main  obstacle  in  the  scheme  was  easily  apparent.  For  days 
Eaton  went  over  the  ground  with  Mulholland,  proving  by 
barometer  and  rough  calculations  that  the  water  could  be  di- 
verted around  the  briny  Owens  Lake  and  carried  southward  by 
gravity.  Convinced  at  last,  Mulholland  jubilantly  returned  to  Los 
Angeles.  He  had  glimpsed  the  key  that  would  free  his  city  from 

Ahead  of  him,  Mulholland  knew,  lay  more  than  engineering 
obstacles.  There  were  the  questions  of  water  rights,  of  federal 
authorization,  of  financial  backing,  and  countless  smaller  issues 
that  must  be  overcome  before  construction  could  begin.  But  to 
Mulholland  they  were  a  challenge,  and  this  was  fortunately  the 
thing  on  which  he  thrived. 

The  first  problem  was  Eaton  himself.  Instead  of  returning  with 
Mulholland  he  had  hurried  to  New  York  City  to  interest  Eastern 
investors  in  his  part  of  the  venture.  For  Fred  Eaton  had  conceived 
it  as  a  joint  private  and  municipal  enterprise.  Mulholland,  how- 
ever, had  no  such  intention.  Quickly  he  sought  out  William  B. 
Mathews,  smooth  and  able  Los  Angeles  city  attorney.  Finding  him 
already  in  New  York  on  business,  Mulholland  wired  him  of 
Eaton's  movements.  Mathews  hurriedly  got  in  touch  with  Eaton 
and  intercepted  his  plans  with  the  argument  that  "the  city  ought 
to  be  given  a  chance,  at  least,  to  act  on  the  matter.  .  .  ."  The 
enterpriser  agreed  to  return  and  open  negotiations  directly  with 
Los  Angeles. 

It  was  not  the  first  contribution  that  Mathews  had  made  to  the 
city's  water  foundations.  An  energetic  Los  Angeles  attorney  since 
the  early  nineties,  he  had  been  a  leading  spirit  in  the  city's  legal 
fight  for  title  to  the  entire  Los  Angeles  River  watershed,  and  in 
the  campaign  for  municipal  ownership  of  the  water  works.  Soft- 
spoken  and  deliberate,  Mathews  was  at  his  best  in  the  hard 
strategy  of  a  courtroom  trial,  or  as  an  irresistible  advocate  of  the 
city's  cause  before  congressional  committees  in  Washington.  In 

his  dealings  with  opponents  of  Los  Angeles  he  exemplified  the 
velvet  glove  on  the  iron  fist — a  man  of  inordinate  patience,  of 
scrupulous  fair  play,  of  moderate  approach,  but  absolutely  un- 
swerving in  purpose.  Nor  did  Mathews  allow  his  practicality  to 
dilute  a  basic  quality  of  idealism.  Behind  his  suave  exterior,  an 
imaginative  mind  nurtured  the  dream  of  a  vast  city-owned  water 
and  power  system  to  bring  unlimited  industrial  and  residential 
growth.  Elected  city  attorney  in  1901,  Mathews  left  the  office  a 
few  years  later  to  become  the  Water  Department's  chief  counsel 
and  to  share  Mulholland's  place  as  creator  of  the  city's  modern 
water  foundations. 

Through  the  winter  of  1904-5  the  two  men  were  negotiating 
with  Eaton  for  an  agreement  on  the  Owens  Valley  scheme.  They 
soon  found,  however,  that  Eaton  had  already  realized  he  must 
offer  Los  Angeles  more  than  an  idea.  In  mid-March  1905  he 
traveled  to  Carson  City,  Nevada,  and  asked  cattleman  Thomas 
B.  Rickey  if  he  would  sell  his  Owens  Valley  ranch.  To  Rickey  the 
property  was  merely  several  thousand  acres  of  grazing  land.  But 
to  Eaton  it  was  the  Long  Valley  dam  site,  the  aqueduct  diversion 
point  north  of  Independence,  and  the  necessary  water  rights 
southward  to  Owens  Lake.  On  March  22,  after  a  week  of  dis- 
couraging negotiation,  Eaton  snatched  his  hat  and  headed  in 
despair  for  the  railroad  station.  Rickey  followed  and  settled  for  a 
two-month  option  of  $450,000.  To  bind  the  deal  Eaton  handed 
him  $100 — a  paltry  consideration  for  an  option  on  the  corner- 
stone of  any  Owens  River  project. 

His  bargaining  position  bolstered,  Eaton  took  his  proposal  to 
the  Los  Angeles  Board  of  Water  Commissioners.  Within  a  month 
a  party  of  seven  city  officials  was  in  Owens  Valley  to  see  the  water 
source  at  first  hand — posing  as  "cattle  buyers"  while  Eaton  signed 
hotel  registers  "Fred  Eaton  and  friends."  They  could  not  afford 
to  reveal  their  true  purpose,  for  fear  of  sending  an  army  of  specu- 
lators flocking  to  Owens  Valley. 

On  their  return,  however,  the  officials  found  that  Los  Angeles 
newspaper  editors  had  not  overlooked  their  absence.  To  insure 
press  silence  they  explained  the  whole  scheme  with  the  under- 
standing that  the  secret  would  be  kept  until  notification  from  the 
water  board  that  the  deal  had  been  closed.  In  this  way  the  Los 
Angeles  taxpayers  would  be  protected  from  the  land  sharks  who 
customarily  descend  on  impending  public  projects. 


As  for  the  details  of  Eaton's  plan,  the  city  authorities  were 
exultant.  Mulholland  had  told  them,  on  the  basis  of  his  rough 
field  surveys  and  calculations,  that  the  25O-mile  aqueduct  would 
cost  just  about  $23,000,000.  From  a  report  by  Mulholland  and 
J.  B.  Lippincott  they  had  final  confirmation  of  the  distressing  lack 
of  water  sources  in  Southern  California.  The  abundance  of  the 
sparkling  liquid  in  Owens  Valley  they  had  seen  with  their  own 

One  more  obstacle  remained  before  Los  Angeles  could  commit 
itself  to  Eaton's  proposal.  The  Reclamation  Service  had  placed 
its  stake  in  the  Owens  River  and  was  still  busy  investigating  the 
valley's  possibilities  as  an  irrigation  project.  Los  Angeles  faced 
formidable  odds  as  long  as  the  federal  government  held  an  inter- 
est in  the  headwaters  of  the  river. 

But  J.  B.  Lippincott,  head  Southwestern  engineer  for  the  Recla- 
mation Service,  had  known  of  Eaton's  scheme  for  months — at 
least  since  the  fall  of  1 904.  Though  an  enthusiastic  reclamationist, 
he  was  first  of  all  a  citizen  of  the  ambitious  city  of  Los  Angeles. 
Rightly  or  wrongly,  he  told  Water  Department  officials  that  the 
government  might  step  aside  in  favor  of  the  municipal  project. 
It  must  be,  however,  "public  owned  from  one  end  to  the  other." 
Late  in  May  1905  the  chief  engineer  of  the  Reclamation  Service 
was  in  Los  Angeles,  backing  up  Lippincott's  stand. 

Here  was  the  first  big  crisis  in  the  city's  enormous  water  pro- 
gram. Eaton  was  notified  that  there  could  be  no  room  for  a 
private  enterpriser  within  the  Owens  Valley  scheme.  It  was  a 
soul-searching  decision  for  Eaton,  bringing  into  conflict  his  funda- 
mental training  as  a  public  servant  and  his  equally  strong  finan- 
cial ambition.  But  the  man  was  big  enough  to  relinquish  his  inter- 

"God  bless  him,"  Mulholland  later  commented,  "I  would  like 
to  see  a  monument  to  him  a  mile  high  when  this  city  gets  the 
aqueduct  through." 

The  sacrifice  left  Eaton  determined  to  make  no  more  conces- 
sions. He  insisted  on  keeping  those  parts  of  the  Rickey  ranch  not 
needed  for  the  aqueduct,  including  some  4000  head  of  cattle.  As 
it  was  conceded  that  the  Long  Valley  reservoir  site  would  not  be 
needed  in  the  initial  aqueduct  plans,  Eaton  withheld  it  too.  The 
day  after  a  verbal  agreement  was  reached,  however,  Mulholland 

and  Mathews  approached  Eaton  for  an  easement  in  Long  Valley, 
to  be  used  when  the  city  grew  big  enough  to  need  a  year-to-year 
storage  reservoir. 

This  was  too  much  for  the  patient  Fred  Eaton.  He  told  them 
he  was  giving  them  "enough  for  the  money"  and  would  not  let 
them  flood  his  valley.  Bargaining  became  so  heated  that  Mulhol- 
land  and  Mathews  left  him  with  the  threat  that  they  would  close 
negotiations  and  "stop  all  proceedings."  Next  day  they  came  back 
and  secured  Eaton's  reluctant  consent  to  a  reservoir  easement  per- 
mitting a  dam  one  hundred  feet  high. 

For  the  first  time  they  had  dealt  with  Eaton,  as  Mulholland 
described  it,  "at  swords'  points  and  arms'  lengths."  The  impor- 
tant compromise  which  resulted  allowed  only  a  small  fraction  of 
Long  Valley's  capacity  as  a  reservoir,  and  made  it  certain  that 
there  would  be  insufficient  water  for  both  Los  Angeles  and  Owens 
Valley  in  any  future  drought.  Though  none  of  the  parties  could 
foresee  it  at  the  time,  here  was  born  the  bitter  Los  Angeles  Aque- 
duct controversy,  and  the  basis  for  the  eventual  sacrifice  of  Owens 

Before  the  end  of  May,  Eaton  took  up  Rickey's  option  and 
turned  it  over  to  the  city,  causing  the  cattleman  to  howl  indig- 
nantly that  the  two  of  them  had  missed  an  opportunity  to  reap 
a  fortune.  Eaton  and  his  son  Harold  then  began  buying  the  re- 
maining water  rights  in  lower  Owens  Valley  and  conveying  them 
to  Los  Angeles.  But  at  this  point  the  water  secret  commenced  to 
burst  at  the  seams.  More  than  one  Los  Angeles  promoter  appeared 
in  Owens  Valley  to  option  land  for  resale  to  the  city  at  exorbitant 
prices.  Eaton  not  only  found  himself  hurrying  to  complete  the 
buying  but  found  land  values  rising  as  Inyo  farmers  saw  a  sudden 
and  mysterious  interest  in  their  remote  agricultural  land. 

One  of  the  first  to  realize  the  city's  connection  in  the  Eaton 
dealings  was  Wilfred  W.  Watterson,  president  of  the  Inyo  County 
Bank  of  Bishop.  Born  in  San  Joaquin  Valley,  Watterson  had 
arrived  in  the  Owens  River  country  with  his  parents  in  1885. 
A  general  merchandising  business  in  Bishop  had  brought  them 
the  means  to  found  the  Inyo  County  Bank,  of  which  Wilfred 
was  now  president  and  his  brother,  Mark  Q.  Watterson,  treas- 
urer. A  man  of  high  affability  and  universal  popularity,  Wilfred 
had  recently  brought  the  first  automobile  into  the  valley — a  fif- 


teen-horsepower  White  Steamer.  On  Sundays  he  would  drive  it, 
loaded  with  rollicking  Inyo  citizens,  over  every  dusty  road  in 
upper  Owens  Valley.  But  though  equally  cordial  in  his  business 
dealings,  he  was  a  man  highly  conscious  of  his  own  financial 
interests  and  jealous  of  his  position  of  leadership  in  valley  affairs. 

Watterson's  fears  of  invasion  by  Los  Angeles  were  confirmed 
when  City  Clerk  Harry  J.  Lelande  arrived  to  complete  the  trans- 
actions which  Eaton  had  placed  in  escrow  at  the  Inyo  County 
Bank.  Though  young  in  years,  Lelande  was  experienced  enough 
as  a  public  official  to  guard  his  steps  carefully  in  a  town  where 
his  movements  were  the  object  of  well-based  suspicion.  After 
completing  the  transfer  of  one  important  ranch  property,  he  im- 
mediately walked  to  the  Bishop  Post  Office  and  mailed  the  deed 
to  the  courthouse  at  Independence.  But  Wilfred  Watterson,  dis- 
covering his  identity,  called  him  back  to  his  office  at  the  bank 
and  made  an  abrupt  demand. 

"We  want  that  deed  back." 

"What  deed?"  inquired  Lelande  innocently. 

When  Watterson  named  the  transaction  Lelande  explained 
that  he  did  not  have  the  document. 

"You're  not  telling  the  truth,"  Watterson  charged.  Stepping 
to  his  feet,  he  locked  his  office  door. 

Lelande  made  no  move  to  oppose  him,  but  declared  steadily, 
"I  can't  give  you  something  I  haven't  got — and  wouldn't  be 
obliged  to  if  I  did." 

Watterson  opened  a  drawer  and  laid  a  revolver  on  his  desk. 
Calmly  he  ordered  the  astounded  city  clerk  to  shed  his  coat  and 
trousers  and  allow  his  pockets  to  be  searched.  When  the  deed  was 
not  produced  Watterson  pocketed  the  revolver,  called  to  an  em- 
ployee outside  his  office,  and  told  Lelande,  "We're  going  over  to 
your  hotel  room  and  see  if  we  can  find  that  deed." 

Gathering  himself  together,  the  outraged  Lelande  accompanied 
the  two  men  across  the  street  while  Watterson  berated  him  for 
"buying  land  in  an  underhanded  way  for  the  city  of  Los  Angeles." 
In  his  room  in  the  Bishop  Hotel,  Lelande's  satchel  was  ransacked 
in  vain,  and  Watterson  abruptly  left  him  without  an  apology. 

Declaring  that  the  banker  would  "not  hear  the  last  of  this," 
Lelande  lost  little  time  in  telephoning  to  W.  B.  Mathews;  al- 


though  the  city  attorney  was  sympathetic,  he  advised  Lelande  not 
to  "make  any  fuss  over  it."  To  the  city  officials  as  well  as  to  the 
Owens  Valley  banker,  the  incident  of  the  missing  deed  was  insig- 
nificant enough,  but  it  symbolized  the  greater  struggle  only  then 
beginning  for  possession  of  Owens  River. 

By  this  time  Lippincott  and  the  Reclamation  Service  realized 
that  the  abandonment  of  their  operations  in  Owens  Valley  would 
require  a  public  explanation.  A  three-man  board  was  appointed 
to  examine  the  proposed  government  project  and,  as  the  head  of 
the  Reclamation  Service  described  it,  "bring  the  matter  to  an 
early  close." 

When  the  group  met  in  San  Francisco  late  in  July  the  decisive 
report  was  made  by  J.  C.  Clausen,  the  young  engineer  who  had 
conducted  the  surveys  in  Owens  Valley.  Though  cautioned  by 
Lippincott  to  keep  his  remarks  "general,"  Clausen  gave  a  glow- 
ing account  of  prospects  for  reclamation  in  Owens  Valley.  Lip- 
pincott then  told  the  board  that,  regardless  of  its  feasibility,  the 
government  project  should  be  abandoned  in  favor  of  Los  Angeles. 
In  their  report  of  July  28,  1905,  the  engineers  favored  the  proj- 
ect— unless  the  men  who  had  bought  key  property  for  Los  Angeles 
had  made  it  impractical. 

This,  of  course,  is  precisely  what  they  had  done.  On  the  same 
day  that  the  government  board  rendered  its  report  Bill  Mulhol- 
land  arrived  in  Los  Angeles  after  a  final  land-buying  trip  in 
Owens  Valley  with  Fred  Eaton. 

"The  last  spike  is  driven,"  Mulholland  jubilantly  told  city  offi- 
cials; "the  options  are  all  secured." 

Also  on  that  last  Owens  Valley  trip  had  been  a  Times  reporter. 
On  the  same  day,  with  or  without  Mulholland's  knowledge,  a  dis- 
patch reached  the  Times  from  Independence.  Next  morning  the 
paper  appeared  with  the  banner  headline,  "Titanic  Project  to 
Give  City  a  River."  Over  the  whole  front  page  was  spread  the 
sensational  Owens  River  story.  Many  amazed  readers  had  never 
heard  of  the  place  before. 

But  all  at  once  Los  Angeles  saw  its  destiny  unfolding  again. 
Fed  by  this  new  water  source,  it  could  reach  a  population  of 
2,000,000.  With  the  one  obstacle  to  development  suddenly  re- 
moved, Angelenos  greeted  the  news,  as  one  observer  described  it, 
"with  acclamations  of  joy." 


Immediately  property  in  much  of  Los  Angeles  County  doubled 
in  price.  San  Fernando  Valley,  whose  agriculture  had  been 
choked  off  by  the  city's  prior  need  of  the  Los  Angeles  River,  now 
took  renewed  vigor.  Copies  of  the  Times  were  no  sooner  dumped 
on  the  depot  platform  at  Burbank  than  valley  property  began 
to  soar.  Within  ten  days  Burbank  city  lots  had  jumped  five  hun- 
dred per  cent,  new  buildings  were  going  up,  and  real  estate  firms 
had  optioned  thousands  of  dollars'  worth  of  ranch  land  in  San 
Fernando  Valley. 

Less  enthusiastic,  however,  were  the  other  Los  Angeles  news- 
paper editors,  who  had  agreed  to  hold  the  Owens  River  story 
until  the  water  board  gave  a  signal.  Most  indignant  of  all  was 
William  Randolph  Hearst's  new  Los  Angeles  Examiner;  as  the 
only  other  morning  paper  in  town,  it  had  suffered  a  twenty-four- 
hour  scoop  by  the  Times.  When  the  Examiner  promptly  charged 
the  Times  with  breaking  faith,  the  latter  retorted  that  it  had 
simply  "got  the  anxiously-awaited  news  of  the  consummation  of 
the  deal  before  anyone  else,  and  printed  it." 

While  the  two  newspapers  squabbled,  the  worst  effect  of  the 
Times  story  was  felt  in  Owens  Valley.  Its  settlers,  maddened 
enough  by  the  abandonment  of  their  reclamation  project  in  favor 
of  Los  Angeles,  were  doubly  confounded  to  hear  the  first  word 
of  it  from  a  Los  Angeles  newspaper.  Their  rage  was  complete  at 
the  Times  observation  that  "it  probably  means  the  wiping  out 
of  the  town  of  Independence,"  and  a  quotation  from  Mulholland 
that  Owens  Valley  land  "in  most  cases  is  so  poor  that  it  doesn't 
pay  to  irrigate  it."  Telegraph  wires  had  scarcely  relayed  the  news 
story  to  Owens  Valley  when  its  outraged  citizens  turned  to  find 
an  object  for  their  wrath. 

It  was  soon  learned  that  Fred  Eaton  and  his  son  were  still  in 
Bishop,  closing  some  last-minute  affairs.  While  the  streets  of  the 
town  buzzed  with  threats,  a  friend  found  the  two  men  at  the  old 
Clark  Hotel  and  warned  that  a  mob  was  forming  to  seize  them. 
With  remarkable  calm  the  Batons  packed  their  bags,  left  the 
hotel,  and  walked  down  a  block  to  the  livery  stable.  When  the 
hostlers  refused  to  hitch  Eaton's  team  to  his  buckboard  the  two 
did  their  own  harnessing  while  a  menacing  crowd  watched  from 
across  the  street.  Eaton  refused  to  be  flustered,  but  made  the 
concession  of  taking  off  a  red  sweater  in  response  to  his  son's 


warning  that  it  would  "make  too  good  a  target."  Climbing  into 
the  wagon,  the  two  swung  the  team  into  the  street  and  drove  out 
of  town  at  a  deliberate  pace.  Bishop  watched  them  go  in  anger, 
unable  to  bring  itself  to  the  point  of  violence. 

Fred  Eaton  left  the  valley  by  train  the  night  of  July  31,  after 
writing  a  letter  to  the  Independence  newspaper  denying  any 
wrongdoing.  He  intended  to  spend  his  fortune  and  his  life  in 
Inyo  County,  he  announced,  and  hoped  that  "in  being  a  good 
neighbor  I  shall  have  an  opportunity  to  retrieve  myself  and  clear 
away  all  unhappy  recollections."  Then  he  stormed  into  Los 
Angeles  and  roared  his  fury  at  the  position  in  which  the  Times 
story  had  caught  him. 

"Up  there  in  the  Owens  River  country,"  he  declared,  "they 
say  I  sold  them  out,  sold  them  out  and  the  government  too;  that 
I  shall  never  take  the  water  out  of  the  valley;  that  when  I  go 
back  for  my  cattle  they  will  drown  me  in  the  river." 

Owens  Valley,  in  fact,  was  only  beginning  to  bare  its  rage.  It 
moved  now  to  strike  back  at  the  most  vulnerable  link  in  the  city's 
careful  plan — Lippincott's  arbitrary  rejection  of  the  proposed 
federal  reclamation  scheme.  First  spokesman  for  the  valley  was 
the  land  registrar  at  Independence,  who  immediately  took  its 
cause  to  the  highest  authority  in  letters  to  the  Secretary  of  the 
Interior  and  even  to  the  White  House.  Because  of  Eaton's  friend- 
ship with  Lippincott,  he  told  Theodore  Roosevelt,  farmers  had 
optioned  land  to  him  believing  he  was  a  government  agent. 

"In  justice,  therefore,"  he  concluded,  "to  the  people  here,  in 
the  interest  of  fairness  and  of  the  honor  of  the  Reclamation  Serv- 
ice, I  appeal  to  you  not  to  abandon  the  Owens  River  proj- 
ect. .  .  ." 

At  the  same  time  the  whole  valley  was  joining  him  in  outraged 
protest.  In  a  rousing  mass  meeting  at  Bishop  on  August  2  the 
settlers  vented  their  rage  in  fervent  speeches  against  the  deeds 
of  Eaton  and  Lippincott,  and  chose  a  citizens'  committee  to  take 
action.  A  demand  was  then  sent  to  the  Interior  Secretary  for  an 
investigation  of  Reclamation  Service  men  who  were  using  their 
positions  to  turn  the  valley's  water  over  to  Los  Angeles. 

Furious  journalistic  support  was  provided  by  editor  Willie  A. 
Chalfant,  whose  newspapers  had  recorded  valley  history  since  his 
father  had  arrived  with  its  first  press  thirty-five  years  before. 

Under  the  startling  headline,  "Los  Angeles  Plots  Destruction," 
his  Inyo  Register  had  already  trumpeted  the  news  of  what  he 
called  "the  greatest  water  steal  on  record."  But  the  paper's  main 
attack  fell  on  "Judas"  B.  Lippincott,  as  Chalfant  called  him, 
who  was  charged  with  having  used  the  government  machinery 
"with  a  view  to  despoiling  the  very  lands  it  was  supposed  to  re- 
claim. .  .  ." 

Inflamed  by  such  outcries,  feeling  against  Lippincott  ran  so 
high  that  when  he  passed  through  Bishop  in  August  on  an  inspec- 
tion trip  to  Long  Valley  a  group  of  stalwarts  conspired  to  waylay 
him  on  his  return  and  "ride  him  out  of  the  valley."  But  cooler 
heads  prevailed  at  a  mass  meeting  on  the  day  of  his  expected 
arrival,  and  Lippincott  was  allowed  to  pass  out  of  Inyo  County 
on  his  own  accord. 

By  this  time  the  barrage  of  valley  protests  was  taking  effect 
in  Washington.  Engineer  A.  P.  Davis  was  bearing  the  brunt  of  it 
as  acting  director  of  the  Reclamation  Service  in  the  absence  of 
his  chief,  and  wrote  him  hurriedly  that  "we  cannot  clear  the  skirts 
of  the  Reclamation  Service  too  quickly  nor  completely."  An  in- 
vestigation of  Lippincott' s  operations  was  ordered,  during  which 
some  of  the  charges  were  disproved  and  others  supported.  One 
damaging  fact  could  scarcely  be  overlooked :  while  serving  as  an 
officer  in  the  Reclamation  Service,  Lippincott  had  also  been  em- 
ployed as  a  consulting  engineer  by  the  Los  Angeles  Water  De- 
partment. And  despite  his  original  acceptance  of  the  reclamation 
job  on  the  understanding  that  he  could  maintain  his  private  prac- 
tice, such  a  dual  interest  was  specifically  forbidden  by  federal 

Although  Lippincott  was  never  formally  charged  with  these 
complaints,  Arthur  Davis  had  decided  by  the  last  of  August  that 
"the  only  safe  way  for  the  Reclamation  Service  is  to  encourage 
him  to  devote  his  time  to  private  practice.  .  .  ."  The  following 
May,  Lippincott  resigned  his  Reclamation  Service  post — and 
promptly  took  a  $6,ooo-a-year  job  on  the  Los  Angeles  Aqueduct. 
It  was  regarded  in  Owens  Valley  as  a  final  installment  in  his 
"reward  for  past  services."  Lippincott  had  been  a  leading  instru- 
ment in  the  city's  plans,  but  he  had  also  succeeded  in  burden- 
ing them  with  the  uncompromising  antagonism  of  some  four 
thousand  Owens  Valley  citizens.  As  for  Eaton  and  the  other  Los 


Angeles  men,  they  realized  too  late  that  their  determined  secrecy 
had  struck  in  the  wrong  quarter.  They  had  been  so  absorbed  in 
protecting  the  city  against  speculators  that  they  had  been  blind 
to  the  ambitions  of  Owens  Valley  settlers. 

By  late  August  1905  the  harassed  Los  Angeles  water  seekers 
were  fighting  the  cry  of  scandal  from  another  direction.  Possibly 
still  chagrined  at  the  Times  scoop,  the  editor  of  the  Examiner  had 
been  doing  some  shrewd  research  in  local  records.  On  August  24, 
in  the  midst  of  a  bond  campaign  for  an  initial  $1,500,000  to 
launch  the  project,  his  paper  scored  its  own  scoop  with  a  charge 
aimed  at  both  the  Times  and  the  Owens  River  scheme. 

Early  in  1905,  as  the  Examiner  explained,  the  i6,2OO-acre 
Porter  Ranch  had  been  purchased  by  a  group  of  investors  which 
included  Harrison  Gray  Otis  of  the  Times  and  Edwin  T.  Earl 
of  the  Express,  two  political  enemies  who  had  united  to  support 
the  Owens  River  project.  General  Otis,  a  man  of  extraordinary 
achievements  as  a  soldier  and  newspaperman,  had  even  then 
gained  nationwide  notice  as  a  fiery  exponent  of  the  open  shop. 
Earl  had  made  a  fortune  in  the  fruit  shipping  business  and  since 
1899,  as  publisher  of  the  Los  Angeles  Express,  had  offered  politi- 
cal opposition  to  Otis.  The  Examiner's  implication  was  that 
through  inside  knowledge  before  the  aqueduct  scheme  was  made 
public  these  men  were  able  to  buy  up  San  Fernando  lands  which 
stood  to  be  transformed  from  desert  to  garden  by  the  application 
of  Owens  River  water.  To  leave  no  mistake,  the  Examiner  next 
day  followed  with  a  caustic  editorial. 

"Why  should  Mr.  Eaton  and  his  confreres  have  given  the 
profitable  tip  to  Messrs.  Otis,  Earl  &  Co.?"  asked  the  editor. 
"Was  this  a  consideration  for  newspaper  support?" 

The  effect  of  the  accusations  was  instantaneous.  Earl  sent  for 
the  Examiner  editor,  told  him  that  he  was  misinformed,  and 
concluded  that  he  was  too  suspicious.  Fred  Eaton  later  came 
around  to  the  Examiner  office  and  in  a  fit  of  anger  threatened 
to  assault  its  editor.  Otis'  Times  called  the  charge  "the  very  es- 
sence of  absurdity,"  and  pointed  out  that  the  first  payments  on 
the  property  had  been  made  in  1903,  when  the  Owens  River 
project  was  unheard  of.  The  Examiner  promptly  replied  that, 
while  an  option  had  been  taken  in  1903,  "the  real  money"  had 


not  been  laid  down  until  the  spring  of  1905,  when  the  aqueduct 
scheme  took  definite  shape. 

The  explanation  was  not  far  wrong  on  details,  but  it  had 
taken  a  tremendous  jump  at  conclusions.  In  October  1903,  George 
K.  Porter,  son  of  a  founder  of  San  Fernando,  had  given  a  three- 
year  option  on  his  ranch  at  a  price  of  more  than  a  half  million 
dollars.  The  prospective  buyer  was  L.  C.  Brand,  president  of  the 
Title  Guarantee  and  Trust  Company,  who  planned  to  extend  an 
electric  railway  to  the  valley  town  and  subdivide  the  land  for  sale 
to  incoming  settlers.  It  was  a  formula  which  both  Brand  and  his 
associate,  Henry  E.  Huntington,  were  then  using  with  success 
throughout  Los  Angeles  County.  Sharing  the  venture  with  him 
were  Huntington,  Otis,  Earl,  and  several  others  noted  for  their 
heavy  investments  in  Southern  California  real  estate.  Not  long 
afterward  they  were  joined  by  General  Moses  H.  Sherman,  pio- 
neer street-railway  magnate  and  a  member  of  the  Los  Angeles 
water  board. 

At  the  outset  they  could  not  possibly  have  known  of  the  Owens 
River  project,  or  of  its  benefit  to  San  Fernando  Valley  as  a  source 
of  irrigation  water,  for  it  had  not  even  taken  definite  form  in 
Fred  Eaton's  mind.  But  after  the  fall  of  1904,  when  Mulholland 
returned  from  Owens  Valley  and  outlined  the  scheme  to  a  hand- 
ful of  city  officials,  they  could  have  caught  the  news.  While  Gen- 
eral Sherman  was  not  one  of  those  whom  Mulholland  originally 
notified,  his  position  on  the  water  board  gave  him  a  valuable  ear 
to  the  ground  during  the  first  whisperings  of  Owens  River.  At 
any  rate,  on  November  28,  Otis  and  his  associates  incorporated 
the  San  Fernando  Mission  Land  Company  and  took  up  the  op- 
tion on  the  Porter  Ranch  in  March  1905.  Although  they  had 
originally  sought  the  three-year  option  for  one  of  their  familiar 
subdivision  developments,  they  probably  exercised  it  within  a  year 
in  the  belief  that  the  city  was  bringing  in  a  new  water  source  to 
be  shared  by  San  Fernando  Valley. 

The  early  charge,  however,  that  "Otis,  Earl  &  Co."  were  given 
inside  information  in  return  for  newspaper  support  is  warranted 
more  by  hearsay  than  by  fact.  Certainly  the  later  exaggerations 
of  the  affair,  which  picture  Otis  and  his  fellows  conceiving  the 
Owens  River  project  as  a  way  to  irrigate  their  San  Fernando 
lands  at  public  expense,  have  little  foundation.  Eventually  they 

made  millions  in  valley  real  estate,  but  their  main  offense  con- 
sisted in  doing  what  any  other  investors  would  have  done  when 
they  got  wind  of  an  unexpected  benefit  to  land  they  had  optioned. 

Most  Angelenos,  in  fact,  were  too  aware  of  their  city's  desperate 
water  needs  to  be  swayed  by  the  Examiner's  San  Fernando  story. 
Mulholland  had  already  announced  that  defeat  of  the  initial 
Owens  River  bond  issue  would  mean  "utter  ruin  for  Los  Angeles." 
Around  August  26  the  annual  hot  spell  struck  the  city  and  water 
consumption  began  to  soar.  Reservoir  levels  dropped  at  the  rate 
of  3,000,000  gallons  a  day.  By  the  first  of  September  Mulholland 
warned  that  at  current  consumption  rates  Los  Angeles  would 
probably  be  out  of  water  within  three  weeks. 

Later  on  the  enemies  of  the  aqueduct  charged  that  this  water 
famine,  as  well  as  those  of  1 903  and  1 904,  was  artificially  created 
by  city  officials  to  get  a  favorable  vote  on  the  aqueduct  bonds. 
It  was  alleged  by  some  that  water  was  turned  into  the  sewers  to 
lower  the  levels  in  the  reservoirs;  yet  since  those  reservoirs  were 
never  connected  with  the  sewer  system,  this  would  have  been  im- 
possible. Others  have  claimed  that  in  contradiction  to  Mulhol- 
land's  warnings  the  reservoirs  always  held  plenty  of  water.  But 
the  Chief  knew  better  than  the  skeptics  the  absolute  need  for 
maintaining  a  safe  margin  against  actual  thirst.  As  Thomas 
Brooks,  who  was  then  in  charge  of  city  water  distribution,  has 
wryly  commented,  "A  reservoir's  no  good  if  it's  dry!"  The  plain 
fact  then  confronting  the  Los  Angeles  water  officials  was  a  ten- 
year  drought  which  by  1905  brought  a  forty  per  cent  deficiency 
in  the  flow  of  the  Los  Angeles  River. 

The  hot  spell  subsided  a  few  days  before  the  first  bond  election, 
leaving  Los  Angeles  citizens  with  another  pointed  reminder  that 
no  San  Fernando  bugaboo  could  hide  their  basic  water  dilemma. 
Even  the  Examiner  was  won  over  when  the  water  board  agreed 
to  engage  an  impartial  board  of  nationally  known  engineers  to 
pass  on  the  project.  At  the  same  time  William  Randolph  Hearst 
arrived  from  San  Francisco  and,  possibly  at  the  request  of  city 
officials,  told  his  Los  Angeles  editor  to  "help  them  along  on  the 
bond  issue."  On  September  3,  in  a  front-page  editorial  said  to 
have  been  written  by  Hearst  himself,  the  Examiner  wheeled  about 
and  supported  the  Owens  River  project.  Four  days  later  the 
people  voted  in  the  initial  bonds  by  a  14-1  majority.  City  officers 


W.  B.  Mathews  and  William  Mulholland,  steering  their  Owens 
River  aqueduct  over  a  rough  course  of  accusations,  had  placed  it 
a  step  further  toward  the  day  when  dirt  would  fly. 

Ahead  of  them  lay  a  more  formidable  task,  which  carried  them 
from  local  affairs  to  the  national  scene.  Since  most  of  the  aque- 
duct route  and  reservoir  sites  lay  along  public  lands,  the  blessing 
of  the  federal  government  was  needed.  And  this  time  they  would 
have  to  go  beyond  the  Reclamation  Service  to  the  halls  of  Con- 
gress. By  mid-September  the  water  board  was  enlisting  the  aid 
of  Senator  Frank  P.  Flint,  veteran  lawmaker  from  Los  Angeles, 
whose  prominence  in  the  national  Republican  party  made  him 
a  valuable  ally  in  the  city's  descent  on  Washington. 

But  Owens  Valley,  having  lost  the  first  battle  for  its  reclama- 
tion project,  now  threw  itself  into  the  path  of  this  new  Los 
Angeles  effort.  On  hand  to  defend  its  cause  was  Congressman 
Sylvester  C.  Smith,  whose  district  included  Inyo  County.  A  man 
of  energy  and  nerve,  Smith  had  given  up  his  private  career  as  a 
Bakersfield  newspaper  editor  a  few  years  previously  to  devote  him- 
self entirely  to  public  affairs.  He  now  leaped  to  the  side  of  Owens 
Valley,  charging  that  it  was  to  be  desolated  for  the  benefit  of  irri- 
gation in  San  Fernando  Valley. 

By  January  1906,  Smith  had  proposed  a  compromise  for  the 
Los  Angeles  plan.  Let  the  Reclamation  Service,  he  said,  proceed 
with  its  reservoir  project  and  distribute  the  water  first  to  Owens 
River  farmers,  then  to  the  city  of  Los  Angeles  for  domestic  pur- 
poses only.  If  any  were  left  it  should  go  to  additional  irrigation 
in  Inyo  County. 

To  Mulholland  and  Mathews  the  suggestion  was  unthinkable. 
Their  whole  project  was  based  on  the  belief  that  most  of  the 
Owens  River  flow  would  eventually  be  needed  by  the  booming 
city  of  Los  Angeles.  In  order  to  hold  title  to  all  the  water  rights 
they  had  acquired  in  Owens  Valley,  it  would  be  necessary  to 
show  a  fairly  constant  use  of  them.  At  first  there  would  be  a 
surplus,  but  the  water  men  planned  to  use  this  on  agricultural 
lands  into  which  the  city's  residential  area  would  eventually  ex- 
pand. They  could  not  allow  their  water  source  to  be  restricted 
against  irrigation  by  Smith's  proposal. 

In  Owens  Valley,  however,  the  people  took  up  the  plan  with 


the  battle  cry,  "Not  one  drop  for  irrigation!"  Inyo  County  news- 
papers swung  behind  it,  while  W.  W.  Watterson  and  other  valley 
leaders  wrote  articles  for  Los  Angeles  consumption  favoring  not 
more  than  300  cubic  feet  per  second  for  municipal  use  only.  The 
valley  was  perfectly  willing,  said  W.  A.  Chalfant,  "to  accommo- 
date need,  but  not  greed." 

First  skirmish  in  the  "no  irrigation"  fight  came  in  mid-June 
1906,  when  Senator  Flint  introduced  the  city's  bill  to  get  a  right 
of  way  for  its  aqueduct  across  public  lands.  It  passed  the  Senate 
with  little  opposition,  but  Sylvester  Smith  was  waiting  for  it  in 
the  House.  There  the  Public  Lands  Committee  promptly  side- 
tracked the  bill  by  referring  it  to  the  Interior  Department  for 
approval.  Smith  then  offered  his  amendment  prohibiting  irriga- 

With  the  bill  thus  in  jeopardy,  Mulholland,  Mathews,  and  two 
other  Los  Angeles  delegates  boarded  the  eastbound  train  for  the 
scene  of  conflict.  On  June  21  they  met  with  Smith  in  Senator 
Flint's  Washington  office.  There  they  agreed  to  accept  his  amend- 
ment forbidding  irrigation  if  he  would  support  the  right-of-way 
bill  itself.  With  his  point  apparently  won,  Smith  went  with  them 
next  day  to  urge  approval  from  Secretary  Ethan  A.  Hitchcock, 
head  of  the  Interior  Department.  The  amended  bill,  providing 
for  municipal  use  only,  was  then  sent  back  to  the  House  commit- 
tee freed  of  opposition. 

But  if  Congressman  Smith  believed  he  had  won  his  "no  irri- 
gation" crusade  for  Owens  Valley  he  was  reckoning  without  the 
ingenuity  of  the  Los  Angeles  delegation.  As  long  as  a  higher 
authority  remained  above  the  Secretary  of  the  Interior,  its  mem- 
bers were  not  reluctant  to  make  a  final  stand.  Late  on  the  night 
of  June  23,  just  before  action  was  due  in  the  House,  Senator 
Flint  called  at  the  White  House. 

Theodore  Roosevelt  listened  while  he  outlined  the  issue  and 
explained  that  Los  Angeles  was  now  providing  water  for  the  next 
half  century  of  growth.  A  continuous  consumption  of  the  whole 
supply,  even  if  partly  for  irrigation,  would  be  necessary  to  pro- 
tect its  water  rights  under  existing  law.  It  was,  Flint  said,  "a  hun- 
dred- or  a  thousandfold  more  important  to  the  state  and  more 
valuable  to  the  people  as  a  whole  if  used  by  the  city  than  if  used 
by  the  people  of  Owens  Valley." 


The  President  was  convinced.  When  he  proposed  to  Secretary 
Hitchcock  that  the  irrigation  limit  be  withdrawn,  however,  he 
was  told  that  this  would  permit  a  few  individuals  to  benefit  by 
an  irrigation  scheme — an  idea  obviously  planted  by  Congressman 
Smith's  statements  on  the  Otis-Brand  syndicate  in  San  Fernando 
Valley.  Yet  at  the  same  time  other  government  officials,  having 
already  been  visited  by  the  Los  Angeles  delegation,  backed  up  the 
city's  stand.  Chief  Forester  Gifford  Pinchot,  Roosevelt's  personal 
friend,  assured  him  that  "there  is  no  objection  to  permitting  Los 
Angeles  to  use  the  water  for  irrigation  purposes." 

It  was  a  puzzling  decision  for  Roosevelt.  But  in  the  end  he  was 
probably  swayed  by  the  added  fact  that  a  power  company  which 
had  located  in  the  Owens  River  gorge  was  also  fighting  the  Los 
Angeles  bill.  To  the  veteran  trust  buster  this  was  enough  to  war- 
rant automatic  support  for  the  city's  plans.  While  Senator  Flint 
and  the  Interior  officials  sat  in  his  office  Roosevelt  dictated  a  let- 
ter asking  that  the  irrigation  restriction  be  removed.  As  for  the 
opposition  of  the  "few  settlers  in  Owens  Valley,"  he  declared  that 
"their  interest  must  unfortunately  be  disregarded  in  view  of  the 
infinitely  greater  interest  to  be  secured  by  putting  the  water  in 
Los  Angeles.  .  .  ." 

The  House  Public  Lands  Committee  was  considering  the  Los 
Angeles  bill,  together  with  Smith's  amendment,  when  the  Presi- 
dent's letter  arrived.  Its  effect  on  the  committee  members  was 
immediate.  Realizing  that  it  was  impossible  to  fight  Roosevelt's 
decree  against  water  limitation,  Smith  announced  bitterly  that  he 
submitted  "to  the  orders  of  the  schoolmaster."  He  secured  several 
minor  amendments,  but  the  main  issue  had  been  won  by  Los 

On  June  27,  1906,  the  city's  delegates  were  able  to  send  home 
a  jubilant  message:  "Owens  River  right-of-way  bill  has  passed." 
Early  in  July  they  arrived  by  train  in  Los  Angeles  to  receive  a 
victors'  welcome.  "We  got  what  we  went  after,"  beamed  Mul- 

But  when  Owens  Valley  heard  the  outcome  in  a  telegram  from 
Smith  its  settlers  angrily  called  it  another  relentless  step  in  what 
seemed  now  to  be  a  conspiracy  against  them.  More  than  ever  the 
isolated  community  had  the  desperate  feeling  of  loneliness.  In  the 
absence  of  protection  by  even  the  federal  government,  it  must 

look  to  its  own  resources  for  defense.  It  was  plain  that  the  Los 
Angeles  water  seekers,  made  desperate  by  their  city's  thirst,  were 
pushing  their  project  with  an  uncompromising  campaign. 

Nor  was  this  the  end  to  the  government's  contribution.  Now 
committed  wholeheartedly  to  the  Los  Angeles  cause,  the  Interior 
Department  moved  next  to  proclaim  the  formal  abandonment  of 
its  Owens  River  reclamation  project  in  July  1907.  But  thousands 
of  acres  of  public  land,  withheld  from  entry  while  the  scheme 
was  pending,  were  not  restored.  Los  Angeles  was  being  protected 
from  private  water  and  power  filings  which  might  impede  its 

To  gain  the  same  defense  throughout  the  whole  length  of 
Owens  Valley,  city  authorities  asked  the  government  in  Septem- 
ber 1907  to  "extend  the  eastern  boundary  of  the  Sierra  Forest 
Reserve."  Such  a  request  fell  within  the  province  of  Chief  For- 
ester Gifford  Pinchot,  apostle  of  the  conservation  movement  then 
capturing  the  country.  The  fact  that  the  Forest  Service  Law  had 
specifically  exempted  from  reservation  any  land  more  valuable 
"for  agricultural  purposes  than  for  forest  purposes"  did  not  deter 
Pinchot  from  including  the  plans  of  Los  Angeles  in  his  conserva- 
tion program. 

Three  investigators  were  sent  into  the  valley  before  a  report 
was  returned  favoring  forest  extension  over  an  area  where  the 
only  trees  in  sight  for  miles  in  any  direction  were  those  planted 
by  farmers.  On  April  20,  1908,  the  proclamation  extending  the 
Sierra  Reserve  came  to  President  Roosevelt's  desk  with  Pinchot's 

When  Congressman  Smith  heard  of  it  he  hurried  to  Roosevelt's 
office  and  found  there  his  old  water  foe,  Senator  Flint.  Smith 
promptly  charged  that  the  Forest  Service  was  being  used  "to  con- 
fiscate property  for  the  benefit  of  Los  Angeles,"  which  "intends 
to  make  use  of  part  of  the  water  from  Owens  River  to  irrigate 
lands  at  San  Fernando."  Flint  denied  the  accusation  and  declared 
that  Smith  was  "misrepresenting  Los  Angeles."  The  irate  con- 
gressman then  turned  to  Theodore  Roosevelt,  who  was  about  to 
sign  the  proclamation  before  him. 

"I  hope,  Mr.  President,"  Smith  cautioned,  "that  you  will  not 
be  found  on  the  side  of  Los  Angeles  in  this  fight." 

Roosevelt,  unmoved  by  his  charges,  answered  with  distracting 
calm,  "That's  exactly  what  I  am  doing  right  now." 

"Well,  I  should  like  to  talk  with  you  further  before  you  act," 
pleaded  Smith. 

"You  don't  need  to  talk,"  snapped  the  President.  "I  am  doing 
the  talking." 

With  that  he  signed  the  proclamation  and  extended  the  Na- 
tional Forest  Reserve  over  treeless  Owens  Valley.  Nearly  four 
years  later  the  restriction  was  removed  by  President  Taft  after 
it  had  protected  the  Los  Angeles  water  rights  from  harassment 
by  speculators  during  most  of  the  aqueduct  construction.  Yet 
from  this  distance  it  seems  that  Los  Angeles  could  have  been 
accommodated  without  such  wholesale  juggling  of  the  public 
domain.  Individual  applications  in  specified  areas  could  have 
been  made  subject  to  the  city's  approval  without  making  it,  as 
one  Inyo  spokesman  stated,  "the  suzerain  of  Owens  Valley."  To 
the  extent  that  this  purpose  was  aided  by  federal  officials,  from 
Lippincott  to  Roosevelt,  they  have  been  hailed  in  Los  Angeles 
and  maligned  in  Owens  Valley. 

Reaction  of  Inyo's  citizens,  in  fact,  ranged  from  bitterness  to 
defiance  when  they  received  Smith's  telegram  announcing  the 
forest  extension.  Chalfant  of  the  Register  looked  ahead  with  the 
weary  hope  that  "there  may  be  a  new  deal  some  other  day."  The 
Inyo  Independent,  agreeing  that  "Los  Angeles  has  been  given  all 
that  she  asked  for,"  added  ominously,  "except  the  water." 

But  the  city's  water  men  were  too  engrossed  in  the  swift  prog- 
ress of  their  plans  to  hear  the  warning.  Since  the  fall  of  1906, 
when  the  promised  board  of  consulting  engineers  had  pronounced 
the  aqueduct  "admirable  in  conception  and  outline,"  they  had 
been  hurrying  ahead  with  the  final  details.  One  last  step  separated 
them  from  actual  construction — voting  of  bonds  for  the  $23,000,- 
ooo  which  Mulholland  had  said  the  big  ditch  would  cost.  With 
the  election  set  for  June  12,  1907,  Los  Angeles  launched  another 
of  its  familiar  water  campaigns.  The  foes  already  assembling 
gave  promise  that  this  would  be  the  most  tumultuous  of  all. 

In  January  the  president  of  the  Pacific  Light  and  Power  Com- 
pany interviewed  Mulholland  and  asked  about  "the  possibility  of 
making  some  arrangement  with  the  city"  about  the  project.  But 
with  some  choice  sites  for  power  generation  waiting  along  the 
aqueduct,  the  Los  Angeles  water  men  were  not  inclined  to  relin- 


quish  the  opportunity  to  private  hands.  They  were,  in  fact,  as 
determined  to  enter  the  field  of  public  power  as  the  electric  com- 
panies were  to  keep  them  out.  And  here  began  the  first  clash  in 
the  public-private  power  battle  that  would  rock  Los  Angeles  for 
a  generation. 

Opening  shots  had  already  been  fired  by  the  Los  Angeles 
Evening  News,  which  according  to  common  gossip  had  received 
financial  support  from  the  power  companies  since  its  inception  in 
1905.  The  paper's  editor  was  Samuel  T.  Clover,  a  capable  but 
hot-tempered  newspaperman  who  had  been  an  editorial  writer 
for  the  Express  until  he  locked  horns  with  publisher  Earl  and 
found  himself  out  of  a  job.  When  Clover,  not  a  man  of  means, 
promptly  turned  up  with  his  own  newspaper  and  soon  began  at- 
tacking the  Los  Angeles  Aqueduct,  conclusion-jumping  was  in 
order.  Any  connection  with  the  power  companies,  however,  was 
denied  by  Clover,  who  in  fact  seemed  to  conduct  his  fight  with 
the  sincere  conviction  that  the  water  project  was  against  the  city's 

The  gist  of  his  objections  was  that  the  scheme  had  been  hatched 
to  benefit  Otis  and  the  San  Fernando  land  syndicate,  and  that  to 
pay  for  it  the  people  were  being  heaped  with  "financial  burdens 
so  excessive  that  they  may  ruin  the  city's  credit.  .  .  ."  To  bolster 
his  cause  he  also  claimed  that  the  waters  of  the  Owens  River  were 
too  strongly  impregnated  with  alkali,  and  that  an  ample  200 
second-feet  of  water  was  available  from  the  Los  Angeles,  San 
Gabriel,  and  other  Southland  rivers.  But,  said  Clover,  "what  good 
would  that  do  the  Porter  Ranch  syndicate?" 

By  mid-May  1907  the  bond  contest  was  mounting  in  fury,  with 
the  rest  of  the  city's  six  newspapers  all  clamoring  for  Owens  River 
water.  Heading  the  drive  was  the  Times,  which  showed  by  statis- 
tics that  other  Southern  California  water  sources  were  far  too 
slim,  and  that  the  added  taxes  for  the  aqueduct  were  small 
enough  to  make  it  a  remarkable  bargain.  As  for  the  alkalinity  of 
Owens  River,  the  Times  took  the  News's  own  figures  to  prove 
that  it  was  purer  than  the  current  supply  from  the  Los  Angeles 
River.  With  editor  Samuel  Clover  persistently  calling  the  $23,- 
000,000  issue  the  "Alkali  Bonds,"  the  Times  in  turn  labeled  him 
"Alkali  Sammy."  Otis'  paper  remained  silent  on  the  San  Fer- 
nando land  accusation,  however,  until  Mayor  A.  C.  Harper  came 


to  see  him  and  explained  that  it  was  undermining  his  support  of 
the  aqueduct  bonds. 

"If  you  are  willing  to  come  out  with  a  denial,"  he  told  Otis,  "it 
will  be  a  good  campaign  argument  for  Owens  River." 

Otis  agreed  and,  when  asked  whether  he  could  back  up  the 
refutation  "in  case  of  comeback,"  said  that  he  could.  In  a  prompt 
letter  to  Mayor  Harper,  published  in  the  Times  on  May  24,  the 
general  avowed  that  he  had  sold  his  stock  in  the  San  Fernando 
Land  Company  in  Februry  1905.  "As  a  matter  of  fact,  I  have  no 
private  property  interests  whatsoever  in  the  San  Fernando  Val- 
ley." It  looked  as  though  the  black  smudge  of  "special  interest" 
had  been  wiped  from  the  aqueduct  at  last. 

But  that  evening  Glover's  paper  nailed  the  denial  by  pointing 
out  that  the  Times  had  admitted  Otis'  interest  in  the  San  Fer- 
nando company  as  late  as  August  1906.  The  Times  could  only 
answer  that  it  had  been  mistaken  in  August  1906.  It  is  a  matter 
of  record,  however,  that  Otis  still  held  his  interest  at  least  a  month 
after  he  claimed  it  had  been  sold.  His  denial  could  hardly  be 
accepted  by  the  public  at  face  value,  and  on  this  one  issue,  at 
least,  Clover  came  off  the  victor.  Yet  while  a  personal  stake  in  the 
bond  election  might  have  tended  to  minimize  Otis'  campaign 
arguments,  the  general  public  did  not  believe  that  the  Owens 
River  project  had  been  initiated  for  his  benefit,  or  that  his  interest 
made  it  any  less  imperative  to  bring  in  the  new  water  supply. 

Clover's  frenzied  opposition,  however,  had  the  effect  of  rallying 
the  aqueduct's  supporters  for  a  heroic  fight.  When  campaign 
headquarters  for  the  water  bonds  opened  in  the  Chamber  of 
Commerce  offices  they  were  backed  by  every  type  of  Los  Angeles 
organization  from  the  Business  Men's  Bible  Class  of  the  Magnolia 
Christian  Church  to  the  Woman's  Goldfield  Mining  Exchange. 

No  medium  of  expression  was  overlooked  in  publicizing  the 
aqueduct.  An  informative  pamphlet,  the  Owens  River  Primer, 
was  circulated  by  the  thousands.  Store  windows  carried  placards 
for  the  water  bonds,  while  two  business  houses  displayed  detailed 
replicas  of  Owens  Valley  and  the  proposed  aqueduct.  Legitimate 
theaters  showed  photographic  slides  of  scenes  in  Owens  Valley. 
Newspapers  carried  large  advertisements  exhorting  the  people  to 
"Work  and  Vote  for  the  Owens  River  Water  Bonds  June  12." 
Pedestrians'  coat  lapels  blossomed  with  buttons  bearing  the  slogan 


"I'm  for  Owens  River  Water,"  to  which  were  attached  tiny  vials 
of  the  liquid.  Automobiles  were  decked  with  huge  pennants  dis- 
playing the  words  "Owens  River — Vote  for  it  June  12."  For  once 
Angelenos  were  taking  the  same  talent  for  publicity  with  which 
they  had  belabored  the  East  for  years  and  turning  it  on  each 

Even  the  city's  high  school  children  studied  the  problem,  held 
auditorium  debates,  and  on  the  evening  of  June  8  staged  a  street 
parade  for  the  aqueduct.  Added  support  came  from  the  Los 
Angeles  Ministerial  Union,  which  voted  to  set  Sunday,  June  9,  as 
"Aqueduct  Day"  in  the  city's  churches.  Throughout  town,  church- 
goers heard  sermons  based  on  such  texts  as  "He  showed  me  a 
river,"  and  "Everything  shall  live  whithersoever  the  river  com- 
eth."  Comedy  was  provided  by  members  of  a  Los  Angeles  men's 
club,  who  drank  toasts  to  the  success  of  the  project  with  Owens 
River  water  that  had  been  bottled  and  sealed  before  a  notary 
public.  At  a  ladies'  afternoon  card  party  the  hostess  made  a  point 
of  using  Owens  River  water  in  the  tea.  The  aqueduct's  enthusi- 
asts were  obviously  determined  to  explode  the  alkali  myth. 

Equal  zeal  was  shown  by  the  project's  opponents,  who  passed 
out  handbills  bearing  the  message,  "Help  defeat  the  greatest 
swindle  ever  organized  west  of  New  York."  Chief  speaker  in  the 
anti-bond  campaign  was  the  fiery  Job  Harriman,  Socialist  nomi- 
nee for  governor  of  California  in  1898,  and  for  U.  S.  Vice- Presi- 
dent in  1900.  Curiously  uniting  with  private  power  interests 
against  a  pioneer  public  enterprise,  he  argued  that  the  Los  An- 
geles River  could  supply  all  the  city's  needs  without  bringing  in 
outside  water  that  would  benefit  the  San  Fernando  landowners. 

But  the  rallying  point  of  opposition  was  Sam  Clover  and  his 
Evening  News,  which  was  soon  charging  vehemently  that  Mul- 
holland,  Lippincott,  and  other  water  officials  had  initiated  the 
project  for  the  rather  pointless  purpose  of  being  "continued  in 
office"  at  their  regular  high  salaries.  Lippincott  finally  became  so 
incensed  at  these  jibes  that  when  an  Evening  News  reporter  went 
to  interview  him  at  his  office  he  slammed  the  door  with  the  ex- 
clamation that  he  had  "nothing  to  say!" 

This  personal  attack  on  the  city's  water  men  helped  to  lose 
Clover  the  sympathy  of  most  Angelenos.  Outraged  merchants 
began  withdrawing  their  advertising,  while  the  paper's  circulation 


dropped  almost  ten  per  cent  during  the  spring  of  1907.  Facing 
financial  ruin,  Clover  still  continued  his  uphill  fight.  By  June  8 
he  was  devoting  almost  the  whole  newspaper  to  the  campaign, 
startling  his  readers  with  a  two-page  headline:  "Taxpayers:  The 
Bonds  Will  Swamp  You.  Vote  No  If  You  Would  Save  Your 

The  assault  also  served  to  stir  Mulholland  from  his  campaign 
silence,  despite  his  own  oft-spoken  words  that  "politics  and  water 
don't  mix."  Armed  with  maps,  charts,  and  a  glib  Irish  tongue,  the 
old  engineer  took  his  crusade  before  men's  organizations  in  every 
precinct  of  the  city. 

"Our  population  has  doubled  since  1904,"  he  warned  his  listen- 
ers, "while  our  water  supply  has  diminished."  Because  the  Owens 
River  was  the  only  adequate  source,  "the  defeat  of  these  bonds 
would  be  absolutely  fatal  to  the  prosperity  of  this  city." 

The  Chief's  entry  into  the  campaign  marked  its  final,  spirited 
climax.  For  ten  days  before  the  election  Mulholland,  Lippincott, 
and  Mayor  Harper  spoke  at  campaign  meetings  almost  every 
night — sometimes  several  during  the  same  evening.  The  main 
crisis,  however,  came  in  a  rousing  rally  in  Simpson's  Auditorium 
on  Hope  Street,  held  two  nights  before  the  balloting.  Aided  by 
lantern  slides,  Lippincott  was  earnestly  describing  the  abundance 
and  purity  of  Owens  River  water  when  a  fly  blundered  into  the 
machine  and  was  projected  onto  the  screen.  For  an  embarrassing 
moment  it  seemed  that  the  intruder  was  fulfilling  Sam  Clover's 
claims  on  the  contamination  of  Owens  Valley  water.  But  the  rally 
chairman  was  equal  to  the  emergency. 

"That  is  a  picture,"  he  announced,  "of  the  only  microbe  in 
Owens  River." 

Over  on  Spring  Street  that  same  night  the  aqueduct  foes 
gathered  in  their  last  big  rally.  Job  Harriman  and  other  speakers 
argued  that  the  city  did  not  need  such  a  water  supply,  that  the 
aqueduct  could  never  be  built  for  $23,000,000,  and  that  it  would 
be  demolished  with  the  next  earthquake.  It  was  a  last,  futile 
effort  to  stem  a  tide  of  enthusiasm  for  Mulholland's  aqueduct. 

On  the  morning  of  June  12,  after  one  of  the  most  turbulent 
campaigns  Los  Angeles  had  ever  seen,  the  aqueduct  forces  began 
reaping  their  harvest  of  votes.  Some  eighty-four  autos  and  twenty 
carriages,  donated  for  the  cause,  shuttled  through  the  precincts 

all  day  long  to  bring  supporters  to  the  polls.  That  night  the 
results  showed  a  10-1  victory  for  the  Owens  River  project.  There 
was  no  doubt  that  Los  Angeles  had  voiced  a  mighty  cry  for  water. 
Undaunted,  the  plucky  Sam  Clover  put  out  an  extra  and  made 
an  editorial  bow  to  the  will  of  the  people.  "The  Evening  News" 
he  said,  ".  .  .  has  been  beaten  to  a  standstill.  We  will  take  our 
medicine  without  a  protest."  More  than  anything  else  the  Owens 
River  campaign  was  the  cause  of  his  paper's  demise  the  following 
spring.  "Our  love  for  Los  Angeles,"  he  declared  in  a  final  edi- 
torial, "impels  us  to  hope  we  were  wrong."  Clover  had,  in  fact, 
performed  the  invaluable  service  of  forcing  Angelenos  to  fight  for 
their  aqueduct,  had  left  them  with  a  militant  spirit  of  unity  where 
water  was  concerned. 

3:     The  Big  Ditch 

With  the  technicalities  past,  Mulholland  now  took  his  battle  to 
the  rugged  mountains  and  forbidding  desert  that  lay  in  the  aque- 
duct's route.  From  the  beginning  there  seemed  no  question  that 
the  Chief  himself,  who  had  ample  experience  in  building  water 
storage  projects  throughout  Southern  California,  would  superin- 
tend the  digging  of  the  great  ditch. 

"I  wanted  one  big  job  before  I  died,"  he  once  remarked.  "I'll 
be  glad  to  know  that  I  did  it." 

His  first  assistant  was  tall,  methodical  J.  B.  Lippincott,  with 
whom  Angelenos  were  already  acquainted  from  his  part  in  the 
acquisition  of  the  Owens  River.  Though  Mulholland  was  some- 
times exasperated  at  Lippincott's  painful  paperwork,  more  than 
once  it  came  to  his  rescue  when  city  officials  demanded  figures 
and  records.  Handling  the  complicated  legal  matters  of  rights  of 
way  and  financing  was  W.  B.  Mathews,  who  left  his  job  as  city 
attorney  to  become  legal  counsel  for  the  aqueduct,  and  afterward 
for  the  Water  Department. 

"I  did  the  work,"  Mulholland  used  to  say,  "but  Mathews  kept 
me  out  of  jail." 

At  the  outset  the  Chief  cautioned  that  construction  of  the  big 
ditch  would  be  less  of  a  problem  than  supplying  Los  Angeles  with 

water  from  local  sources  in  the  meantime.  Already,  in  the  high- 
level  sections  of  the  city,  faucets  were  dry  early  in  the  evenings 
during  the  summer.  But  with  almost  half  of  water  services  metered 
and  seven  new  municipal  pumps  drawing  underground  water 
from  the  surrounding  territory,  Mulholland  was  able  to  make 
water  resources  meet  water  consumption  as  he  embarked  on  the 
strenuous  task  of  building  the  largest  aqueduct  in  the  Western 

From  its  head  gate  on  Owens  River  north  of  Independence, 
a  great  open  ditch  was  surveyed  along  the  foothills  of  the  massive 
Sierras  to  take  the  water  out  of  Owens  Valley  and  into  the  first 
reservoir  site  at  Haiwee.  South  of  this  main  storage  point  the 
flow  was  to  be  carried  by  closed  conduit — first  in  a  series  of 
tunnels  and  steel  siphons  along  the  jagged  mountains  that  form 
the  west  rim  of  the  Mojave  Desert,  and  then  in  a  covered  con- 
crete trough  across  a  corner  of  that  desert  to  the  Coast  Range 
north  of  Los  Angeles.  Here,  with  a  catchment  reservoir  at  each 
end,  the  giant  five-mile  Elizabeth  Tunnel  would  take  the  stream 
through  the  mountains  and  afford  the  generation  of  electric 
power  in  San  Francisquito  Canyon.  After  another  series  of  tun- 
nels and  siphons  across  the  rugged  canyon  country  below,  the 
water  would  splash  into  the  final  reservoirs  at  San  Fernando 
Valley,  223  miles  south  of  the  Owens  River  intake. 

By  the  end  of  1907  Mulholland's  crews  were  in  the  midst  of  a 
gigantic  preparatory  operation  that  rivaled  the  actual  excavation 
itself.  A  240-mile  telephone  line,  more  than  500  miles  of  roads 
and  trails,  and  some  2300  buildings  and  tent  houses  were  con- 
structed to  facilitate  work  along  the  route.  To  provide  another 
needed  item  of  1,000,000  barrels  of  cement,  Los  Angeles  con- 
structed its  own  cement  plant  at  Monolith  on  the  Tehachapi 
plateau.  The  scarcity  of  water  in  this  desert  region  almost  elimi- 
nated the  use  of  steam  power.  So  the  city  built  two  hydroelectric 
plants  on  Owens  Valley  creeks  and  169  miles  of  transmission 
lines,  making  the  aqueduct  the  first  major  engineering  project  in 
America  constructed  primarily  by  electric  power. 

Throughout  this  early  period  Mulholland's  great  concern  was 
whether  civic  officials  would  leave  him  alone  enough  to  get  the 
preliminary  work  done.  Actual  excavation  was  scarcely  under  way 
by  December  1 908  when  the  Los  Angeles  Chamber  of  Commerce 


invited  Mulholland  to  attend  a  meeting.  Its  members,  knowing 
little  of  the  engineering  preliminaries  involved,  intended  to  know 
why  so  much  time  had  been  consumed  and  so  little  dirt  removed. 
In  the  midst  of  the  meeting  the  chairman  asked  Mulholland  for 
an  informal  report  on  aqueduct  progress. 

"Well,  we  have  spent  about  $3,000,000  all  told,  I  guess,"  Mul- 
holland answered  solemnly,  "and  there  is  perhaps  nine  hundred 
feet  of  aqueduct  built.  Figuring  all  our  expenses,  it  has  cost  us 
about  $3300  per  foot." 

He  paused  while  the  startled  Chamber  members  digested  his 

"But  by  this  time  next  year,"  he  concluded,  "I'll  have  fifty 
miles  completed  and  at  a  cost  of  under  $30  per  foot,  if  you'll  let 
me  alone." 

The  tension  in  his  audience  resolved  into  cordiality. 

"All  right,  Bill,"  laughed  the  chairman.  "Go  ahead;  we're  not 
mad  about  it." 

By  the  middle  of  1908  word  of  the  Los  Angeles  undertaking  had 
traveled  through  the  construction  camps  of  the  West,  and  an 
army  of  transient  labor  began  converging  on  Los  Angeles.  "Blan- 
ket stiffs,"  they  were  called — a  roistering,  hard-drinking  lot,  but 
experienced  in  the  drill  and  shovel  work  of  great  engineering 
achievements.  Fresh  from  Western  colleges  came  a  different 
breed — hardy  young  engineers  who  gained  their  first  field  experi- 
ence in  the  rigorous  desert  life  on  Mulholland's  ditch,  and  who 
proved  their  mettle  as  the  backbone  of  aqueduct  construction. 

The  American  public  as  a  whole  did  not  fail  to  notice  the 
spectacle  of  the  Southwest's  largest  city  reaching  more  than  two 
hundred  miles  across  arid  desert  for  life-giving  water.  Through- 
out the  Eastern  states  people  watched  the  project  unfold  with  the 
realization  that  Los  Angeles  had  now  taken  first  rank  among  the 
great  cities  of  the  country.  Correspondents  from  Scribner's,  the 
Literary  Digest,  and  other  national  magazines  kept  America  in- 
formed on  the  progress  of  Mulholland's  ditch.  Los  Angeles  found 
the  aqueduct  as  valuable  a  publicity  item  as  any  project  of  its 
famed  Chamber  of  Commerce.  Many  an  Eastern  family  headed 
for  Los  Angeles  with  the  conviction  that  its  bold  water  pioneering 
had  made  it  a  city  of  opportunity. 


Actual  excavation  had  begun  as  early  as  September  1907,  when 
a  crew  of  forty  men  pitched  camp  in  San  Francisquito  Canyon 
and  broke  ground  at  the  south  portal  of  Elizabeth  Tunnel.  Built 
to  carry  Owens  River  water  through  the  Coast  Range  into  South- 
ern California,  the  five-mile  bore  would  determine  the  length 
of  time  for  construction  of  the  entire  aqueduct.  By  early  October 
another  hard-bitten  crew  was  opening  the  north  face,  determined 
to  reach  the  center  mark  before  the  rival  gang  beyond  the  crest. 

At  first  the  men  at  the  tunnel  headings  drilled  the  powder  holes 
with  hand  tools;  but  early  in  1908  heavier  equipment  arrived, 
and  the  work  was  ordered  pushed  ahead  "with  all  possible  speed." 
Henceforth  electric  motors  hummed  at  the  tunnel  mouths,  driving 
the  air  compressors  which  sent  power  to  the  drillers  deep  inside 
the  mountain.  At  each  face  of  the  bore  two  grimy  stalwarts  at- 
tacked the  granite  with  their  vibrating  air  hammers,  making  such 
a  dreadful  clatter  that  orders  could  be  given  only  in  signs.  After 
every  blast  a  fresh  crew  would  take  over  and  shovel  the  "muck" 
into  electrically  operated  cars.  When  the  face  was  cleared  the 
new  gang  started  up  the  air  hammers  for  another  bite  into  the 
granite  mountain. 

By  July  1908  a  system  of  bonus  payments  was  begun  to  carry 
the  work  forward  at  even  greater  speed.  A  base  rate  of  advance 
was  fixed  at  eight  feet  per  day;  beyond  this  each  underground 
workman  received  forty  cents  a  foot  in  addition  to  his  regular 
pay.  As  a  result  the  air  drills  and  explosions  shattered  the  moun- 
tain at  a  faster  pace  than  before.  In  some  months  the  advance 
was  doubled  over  the  ordinary  base  progress.  While  many  miners 
earned  a  majority  of  their  pay  in  bonuses,  Mulholland  was  able  to 
drive  the  tunnel  through  at  a  saving  of  $500,000  and  450  days  out 
of  the  original  estimates. 

At  the  south  portal  the  crews  soon  captured  the  American 
hard-rock  tunnel  record,  repeatedly  breaking  their  own  mark  to 
reach  the  furious  pace  of  604  feet  in  a  single  month  during  April 
1910.  In  the  north  end  the  treacherous  rock  made  the  advance 
less  spectacular.  To  superintend  this  backbreaking  job,  Mulhol- 
land picked  John  Gray,  a  stocky,  round-faced  tunnel  expert  with 
long  experience  in  the  mines  of  Colorado,  Wyoming,  and  Mexico. 
Working  in  water-soaked  granite,  broken  and  fissured  by  the 
nearby  San  Andreas  Fault,  Gray  drove  his  crews  forward  in  a 


race  to  beat  the  south-portal  crews  to  the  center  in  spite  of 

The  advance  went  well  until  mid- August  1908,  when  the 
miners  struck  a  body  of  saturated  sand  and  gravel  that  brought 
dangerous  caving  and  flooding.  Work  was  stopped  for  a  month 
and  a  half  while  an  auxiliary  shaft  was  sunk  from  the  surface 
three  thousand  feet  south  of  the  north  portal.  Gray  then  began 
driving  back  from  the  bottom  of  the  shaft,  to  approach  the  caved 
section  from  both  ends.  Several  times  Gray  and  his  men  struck 
whole  pockets  of  water  and  were  forced  to  flee  for  their  lives 
through  the  tunnel.  But  by  timbering  the  sides  as  fast  as  they  were 
formed,  and  finally  by  driving  overlapping  steel  rails  in  advance 
of  the  heading  to  hold  back  cave-ins,  the  obstacle  was  conquered. 
Early  in  April  1909,  Gray  connected  with  the  auxiliary  shaft. 
Despite  continued  floods  of  water,  in  which  his  tunnelers  some- 
times waded  to  the  hips,  they  were  soon  driving  ahead  faster  than 
the  rival  crews  beyond  the  crest.  When  the  two  headings  finally 
met  on  February  28,  1911,  the  south-portal  men  had  covered  the 
longest  distance,  but  monumental  handicaps  had  given  John  Gray 
a  lasting  reputation  as  the  best  tunnel  man  on  the  aqueduct. 

Along  the  Sierra  foothills  north  of  Mojave,  full-scale  operations 
could  not  be  launched  until  a  standard-gauge  railway  had  been 
built  to  haul  an  estimated  320,000  tons  of  materials.  Contracting 
for  delivery  of  this  freight,  the  Southern  Pacific  Railroad  began 
grading  the  road  northward  from  Mojave  early  in  May  1 908.  The 
tracks  connected  with  the  narrow-gauge  near  Lone  Pine  by  Octo- 
ber 1910,  bringing  Owens  Valley  its  long-sought  outlet  to  the 

Construction  on  the  ditch  itself  was  opened  as  fast  as  the  tracks 
advanced,  starting  with  the  formidable  Jawbone  Division  just 
north  of  Mojave.  At  sight  of  this  rugged  series  of  jutting  crags 
and  gaping  canyons,  the  original  board  of  inspecting  engineers 
had  shown  some  alarm.  "That  is  very  rough  and  difficult  country 
for  canal  digging,"  one  of  them  told  Mulholland  as  the  group 
surveyed  the  badlands  from  a  nearby  ridge. 

"It  is  rough  on  top,"  agreed  the  quick-witted  Mulholland,  "but 
we  are  not  going  to  dig  on  top."  The  conduit  would  be  bur- 
rowed underground,  he  assured  them,  clinching  the  argument 
with  the  sober  observation,  "When  you  buy  a  piece  of  pork  you 
don't  have  to  eat  the  bristles." 

Headquarters  for  the  Jawbone  was  Cinco,  a  railroad  supply 
station  fairly  roaring  with  construction  activity.  In  and  out  of 
spur  tracks  freight  cars  were  shunted  day  and  night.  It  was  a 
canvas  town  of  innumerable  tents — barracks,  mess  halls,  stores, 
blacksmith  shops — whose  flimsy  sides  flapped  wildly  in  the  fre- 
quent desert  winds.  From  this  bustling  center  long  lines  of  mule 
teams  hauled  machinery  and  supplies  to  outlying  construction 
camps  along  the  conduit. 

Over  precipitous  mountain  roads  the  teams  were  joined  by 
some  of  the  earliest  traction  engines  in  existence.  In  the  first  few 
months  of  operation  the  clanking  "Caterpillars"  showed  a  definite 
saving  in  cost  over  the  jerk-line  mule  teams;  but  when  the  desert 
elements  took  their  toll  in  repeated  breakdowns  and  repairs  Mul- 
holland  was  forced  to  abandon  them  and  fall  back  on  slower  but 
more  reliable  mule  power. 

Progress  on  the  Jawbone  was  in  full  swing  by  the  fall  of  1908. 
A  thousand  men  were  driving  more  than  eleven  miles  of  tunnels 
while  the  Sierra  foothills  shook  to  the  rumble  of  blasting  powder. 
The  brawny  crew  on  the  two-mile  Red  Rock  Tunnel,  longest  in 
the  division,  set  the  world's  record  for  soft-rock  tunneling  with 
the  feverish  advance  of  1061  feet  in  a  single  month. 

Superintending  the  division  was  A.  G.  Hansen,  who  had 
come  to  the  aqueduct  from  flood  control  work  on  the  lower 
Colorado.  A  tall  and  wiry  Scandinavian,  Hansen  believed  in  hard 
work  and  made  himself  an  example  for  his  crewmen.  But  though 
Mulholland  respected  him  as  an  engineer  of  the  first  rank,  he 
could  not  refrain  from  taking  advantage  of  Hansen's  total  lack  of 
humor.  On  one  of  his  inspection  trips  he  was  questioning  the 
superintendent  on  the  tunneling  progress,  and  learned  that  a 
miner  had  been  cut  off  by  a  landslide  in  one  of  the  excavations. 

"We  have  been  talking  to  him,"  explained  Hansen,  "through  a 
two-inch  pipe  driven  through  the  muck." 

Mulholland  considered  that  from  the  miner's  point  of  view 
this  effort  was  hardly  enough. 

"How  long  has  he  been  in  there?"  he  asked. 

"Three  days." 

"Then  he  must  be  nearly  starved  to  death." 

"No,"  replied  Hansen,  "we  have  been  rolling  hard-boiled  eggs 
to  him  through  the  pipe." 

The  Chief  assessed  the  man's  predicament  in  the  light  of  this 
added  service. 

"Well,"  he  asked  abruptly,  "have  you  been  charging  him 

It  was  Hansen's  turn  to  consider  the  situation.  "No,"  he  an- 
swered. "Do  you  think  I  ought  to?" 

But  if  Hansen  took  the  suggestion  seriously  his  problem  was 
removed  next  day  when  a  rescue  party  extricated  the  stranded 

As  the  railroad  progressed  northward  new  divisions  were 
sparked  with  activity.  Where  the  tracks  swung  sharply  away  from 
the  aqueduct  around  the  El  Paso  Mountains,  a  spur  line  was  built 
eight  miles  up  Red  Rock  Canyon  and  operated  by  the  aqueduct 
for  almost  two  years.  Farther  north  on  the  rugged  Grapevine  and 
Little  Lake  divisions,  activity  was  opening  in  1 909  as  fast  as  men 
and  equipment  could  be  spared  from  completed  sections  of  the 
Jawbone.  Here  the  route  of  supply  for  most  of  the  tunnel  work 
was  usually  straight  up  the  mountainsides.  Men  and  materials 
were  carried  up  by  surface  trams  or  aerial  cables,  either  of  which 
offered  a  breath-taking  ride  to  the  uninitiated  visitor. 

Along  the  entire  route,  over  mountains  and  desert  from  San 
Fernando  Reservoir  to  Owens  Valley,  swarms  of  men  and  ma- 
chines continued  to  carve  the  great  trough.  Either  Mulholland  or 
Lippincott  was  always  in  the  field  observing  progress,  making  de- 
cisions on  changes  in  plans,  and  impressing  shovel  operators  and 
tunnel  foremen  with  comments  on  their  performance  records. 
Through  winter  storms  and  summer  heat  the  work  went  on — in 
round-the-clock,  eight-hour  shifts  for  the  tunnel  crews,  and  two 
ten-hour  shifts  for  the  "outside"  workers. 

It  was  said  that  the  aqueduct  was  built  by  "hobo"  labor,  and 
statistics  showed  that  the  average  man  did  not  stay  on  the  job 
more  than  two  weeks  at  a  time.  Most  of  them  drew  their  pay  at 
the  end  of  a  ten-day  bonus  period  and  hiked  to  the  next  head- 
quarters down  the  line,  stopping  at  the  nearest  "rag  camp" — the 
term  for  the  tent  saloons  that  sprang  up  as  close  to  the  conduit  as 
law  would  permit.  One  tunnel  foreman  recalls  that  he  regu- 
larly had  "one  crew  drunk,  one  crew  sobering  up,  and  one  crew 

The  "boom  town"  of  the  aqueduct,  and  the  Mecca  of  every 


"tunnel  stiff"  able  to  reach  it  in  one  or  two  days'  hike,  was  the 
rail  center  of  Mojave,  roughly  halfway  between  Los  Angeles  and 
Owens  Valley.  It  was  a  town  with  a  single  dirt  street  separating 
the  rail  yards  from  a  solid  row  of  false  fronts  and  wooden  awn- 
ings that  housed  saloons,  gambling  joints,  and  dance  halls.  On 
paydays  Mojave  fairly  roared  around  the  clock,  while  a  dozen 
clanking  pianos  and  wheezing  phonographs  mingled  with  the 
raucous  laughter  of  the  revelers.  Next  day  most  of  them  would 
awaken  in  a  Mojave  alley  to  find  their  pockets  empty  and  ahead 
of  them  a  long  walk  back  to  their  headquarters  on  "the  big  ditch." 

By  contrast  the  workingmen's  lives  in  these  white-tented  aque- 
duct camps  were  notably  austere  and  peaceful.  At  mealtimes,  an- 
nounced by  the  ringing  of  the  cook's  triangle,  they  left  their  tools 
on  the  mountainsides  and  converged  on  the  barracks  in  the 
canyon  below.  Inside  the  mess  hall  there  was  little  time  spent  in 
dinner  conversation;  with  scarcely  a  word  the  hungry  horde 
passed  the  serving  pans  down  the  length  of  the  long  tables  and 
tackled  the  meal  almost  as  another  chore  in  the  day's  routine. 

Desert  heat  and  lack  of  refrigeration  made  the  food  increasingly 
bad  in  proportion  to  the  distance  from  Los  Angeles.  Meat  spoiled, 
bread  became  infested  with  weevils,  and  most  of  the  fare  was 
restricted  to  simple  imperishables.  Many  times  the  boisterous 
workmen  were  infuriated  to  riot  by  the  "grub"  placed  before 
them.  Tables  were  kicked  over  and  the  food  thrown  on  the  floor 
and  walls.  Sometimes  the  mess  tents  were  torn  down  and  the 
cooks  chased  out  of  camp.  More  than  once  the  mess  contractor 
was  warned  by  aqueduct  officials  that  the  business  might  be 
taken  from  him,  but  Mulholland  believed  that  the  city  itself 
could  scarcely  do  better  in  feeding  several  thousand  men  in  desert 
heat  without  refrigeration. 

Other  conditions  along  the  conduit  were  better  calculated  to 
help  morale.  Pay  and  promotions  were  based  solely  on  a  man's 
ability  to  do  his  job,  and  there  was  a  certain  fellowship  developed 
among  men  engaged  in  a  common  and  inspiring  undertaking. 
In  the  evenings  at  every  camp  the  office  porch  was  a  social  gather- 
ing place,  where  groups  of  men  would  sit  on  the  rails  and  steps 
to  talk  of  news  up  and  down  the  big  ditch,  or  of  what  they 
planned  to  do  "when  the  damned  thing  is  finished."  Inside  the 
office  a  late-burning  light  would  reveal  the  division  chief  at  work 

over  maps  and  blueprints  that  were  being  carried  out  in  life-size 
scale  up  on  the  mountainside. 

By  the  spring  of  1910  the  work  was  being  pushed  forward  be- 
yond Mulholland's  own  expectations.  The  red  tape  and  indiffer- 
ence which  could  have  plagued  such  a  public  undertaking  was 
largely  eliminated  by  the  pressure  of  his  driving  energy.  Across 
the  country  his  aqueduct  was  respected  for  its  remarkable  prog- 
ress with  a  minimum  of  expense  and  accidents.  By  persuading  the 
city's  New  York  bond  buyers  to  purchase  aqueduct  securities  at  a 
faster  rate  than  guaranteed  in  their  contract,  Los  Angeles  offi- 
cials were  taking  advantage  of  enlarged  funds  to  make  all  possible 
speed  on  the  ditch.  With  almost  two  thirds  of  the  work  finished, 
Lippincott  returned  from  a  trip  afield  to  report  progress  at  a 
record  pace  and  the  aqueduct  organization  "in  a  high  state  of 

In  mid-May  1910,  however,  a  flurry  in  the  money  market 
caused  the  New  York  bonding  firm  to  curtail  investments.  It  not 
only  quit  buying  bonds  ahead  of  schedule  but  refused  to  take  any 
at  all  until  the  schedule  had  caught  up  with  the  number  of 
bonds  already  bought.  As  this  would  be  a  matter  of  months,  it 
meant  a  financial  calamity  for  Mulholland  and  the  aqueduct. 

At  the  current  high  rate  of  advance,  little  more  than  a  month's 
supply  of  funds  was  on  hand  when  the  crisis  came.  Frantic  tele- 
grams were  sent  immediately  to  New  York  without  avail.  With 
the  aqueduct  pay  roll  at  a  record  3900  men,  Mulholland  ordered 
a  drastic  cut  on  May  20. 

Within  a  few  days  the  force  was  reduced  to  1 1  oo  men.  Whole 
divisions  were  closed  down  completely,  with  only  the  Elizabeth 
Tunnel  kept  under  full  force.  North  of  Mojave  eighty  per  cent  of 
the  workers  were  laid  off.  Only  enough  men  were  retained  to 
prevent  the  work  from  falling  into  disrepair.  The  town  of 
Mojave,  ordinarily  booming  with  the  trade  of  3000  nearby  work- 
ers, became  a  dead  camp  overnight. 

Mulholland,  W.  B.  Mathews,  and  a  Chamber  of  Commerce 
official  hurriedly  boarded  an  eastbound  train  to  plead  with  New 
York's  bond  buyers  for  relief.  But  if  the  aqueduct  was  in  dire  straits, 
the  New  York  bankers  were  more  concerned  with  the  shaky  money 
market.  His  efforts  fruitless,  Mulholland  returned  to  Los  Angeles 


on  May  26  and  outlined  a  plan  for  slow-time  activity  until  the 
crisis  passed. 

"The  work  will  be  suspended,"  he  told  the  press,  "on  those 
portions  where  it  is  farthest  advanced  and  the  efforts  continued 
where  it  has  lagged."  To  the  city  authorities  he  soon  reported  the 
most  damaging  result  of  the  debacle — the  scattering  of  the  high- 
geared,  finely  knit  organization  that  had  been  pressing  the  ditch 
forward  at  the  rate  of  seven  miles  a  month. 

But  on  the  most  northerly  Owens  Valley  Division,  where  some 
fifty  men  were  dredging  an  open  canal,  Superintendent  Harvey  A. 
Van  Norman  found  encouragement  from  his  crewmen.  Calling 
them  together  when  word  reached  him  of  the  financial  crisis,  the 
husky  young  engineer  announced  he  would  have  to  shut  down 
operations  and  dismiss  them  all  for  lack  of  funds.  The  men 
looked  at  one  another,  exchanged  a  few  remarks,  and  then  asked 
their  chief: 

"You  can  keep  the  cookhouse  going,  can't  you?" 

Van  Norman  assured  them  that  he  could  guarantee  grub  for  a 
month  or  more.  To  his  immense  satisfaction  the  entire  crew  de- 
cided it  could  stay  on  without  pay  until  Mulholland  got  money 
matters  in  order  once  again.  Throughout  the  aqueduct  curtail- 
ment, dirt  continued  to  fly  in  the  Owens  Valley  Division. 

Meanwhile  the  effects  of  the  slowdown  were  promptly  felt  in 
another  quarter,  starting  a  round  of  trouble  for  Mulholland's 
ditch.  On  July  19  the  mess  contractor  demanded  a  raise  in  meal 
allowances  to  compensate  for  the  smaller  number  of  paying 
boarders.  Aqueduct  officials  accordingly  raised  the  board  five 
cents  per  meal  on  condition  that  he  improve  the  mess. 

But  when  the  new  rate  went  into  effect  in  November  1910  it 
was  branded  an  injustice  by  union  men  who  were  then  trying 
to  organize  the  aqueduct  workers.  Already  the  Western  Fed- 
eration of  Miners,  linked  at  that  time  with  the  radical  Indus- 
trial Workers  of  the  World,  had  made  considerable  headway  with 
the  men  in  the  remaining  tunnels  of  the  Little  Lake,  Grapevine, 
and  Elizabeth  divisions.  The  new  board  schedule  had  been  in 
effect  only  two  weeks  when  the  union  called  a  strike  and  more 
than  seven  hundred  men  walked  off  the  work.  Elizabeth  Tunnel 
was  practically  closed  down,  while  most  of  the  tunnel  and  shovel 
work  farther  north  was  carried  on  with  skeleton  crews. 


If  Mulholland  was  now  twice  confounded  by  the  appearance 
of  labor  strife,  he  gave  no  outward  sign.  A  union  deputation  met 
with  aqueduct  officials  on  November  15  and  demanded  either  a 
return  to  the  old  board  rate  or  a  corresponding  wage  increase,  as 
well  as  "the  unqualified  right  to  board  where  we  please.  .  .  ." 
With  language  that  may  have  been  too  strong  under  the  circum- 
stances, the  aqueduct  authorities  told  the  miners'  committee  that 
the  demands  could  not  be  granted.  In  rapid  order  the  metal- 
workers and  steam-shovel  operators  on  the  ditch  made  their  de- 
mands for  higher  wages  and  shorter  hours.  In  each  case  they  were 

As  the  strike  dragged  on  week  after  week  it  became  apparent 
that  the  W.F.M.  had  chosen  the  wrong  time  to  tie  up  the  aque- 
duct. The  continued  weakness  in  finances  made  the  shutdown  of 
the  expensive  tunnel  work  a  timely  occurrence,  and  Mulholland 
was  in  no  hurry  to  renew  activity.  By  the  end  of  January  1911 
the  unions  sent  a  final  communique  to  the  mayor  and  City  Coun- 
cil, warning  that  "as  there  seems  no  possible  way  to  settle  this 
strike  with  the  city  officials  in  order  to  secure  justice  the  aqueduct 
employees  will  have  to  try  by  all  means  in  their  power  to  make 
the  taxpayers  aware  of  the  facts  in  the  present  situation." 

Political  action  at  the  polls  by  Los  Angeles  labor  elements  was 
evidently  the  meaning  of  the  threat.  But  Mulholland  continued 
to  operate  without  heeding  the  union  organizers.  When  the  New 
York  banking  house  resumed  buying  aqueduct  bonds  in  February 
1911  and  the  long  money  shortage  was  over,  he  began  to  recruit 
a  full  complement  of  aqueduct  workers. 

Though  a  labor  shortage  continued  for  several  weeks,  Mulhol- 
land began  advancing  transportation  money  to  prospective  crew- 
men bound  for  points  along  the  ditch,  and  extended  the  bonus 
system  to  cement  and  siphon  crews  where  necessary.  By  May  1911 
the  entire  aqueduct,  from  the  San  Fernando  dams  to  the  Owens 
River  intake,  was  under  full  steam  once  more.  The  superior  pay 
opportunities  on  Mulholland's  ditch  gave  the  miners  little  stom- 
ach for  a  continued  strike. 

Rebuffed  in  their  wage  demands,  the  labor  chiefs  turned  to 
fulfill  their  threat  of  taking  the  issue  to  the  Los  Angeles  voters. 
In  the  fall  elections  of  191 1  the  unions,  through  the  rising  Social- 
ist party,  waged  a  furious  campaign  to  capture  the  city  adminis- 


tration.  For  mayor  they  supported  Job  Harriman,  the  Los  Angeles 
lawyer  who  had  already  fought  the  aqueduct  bonds.  Paradoxi- 
cally, the  Socialist  leader  now  renewed  his  attack  on  the  biggest 
publicly  owned  project  in  Southern  California.  Every  conceivable 
charge  was  made  against  Mulholland's  aqueduct — that  construc- 
tion was  faulty,  that  working  conditions  were  intolerable,  and 
that  it  had  been  launched  to  serve  a  few  landowners  in  San 
Fernando  Valley. 

Harriman  emerged  from  the  primary  leading  the  field,  and 
took  his  party  into  the  final  campaign  with  every  hope  of  cap- 
turing the  Los  Angeles  city  government.  But  among  the  current 
political  factors  was  the  trial  in  Los  Angeles  of  two  labor  leaders, 
the  McNamara  brothers,  charged  with  the  dynamiting  of  the 
Times  Building  the  year  before;  Harriman,  engaged  as  part  of 
their  legal  counsel,  had  succeeded  in  whipping  up  considerable 
public  sympathy.  On  December  I,  four  days  before  the  election, 
the  McNamaras  confessed  to  the  Times  dynamiting,  shocked  the 
entire  country,  and  blew  the  Socialist  campaign  into  defeat. 

Harriman's  charges  against  the  aqueduct,  repeated  for  two 
months  to  an  interested  public,  could  not  be  overlooked  by  Wil- 
liam Mulholland.  Early  in  December  he  asked  the  City  Council 
for  a  public  investigation  of  aqueduct  affairs.  The  Socialists  then 
demanded  a  majority  on  the  three-man  investigating  committee. 
When  the  City  Council  appointed  only  one  known  "anti-conduit" 
man  they  launched  and  won  an  initiative  movement  to  pack  the 
group  with  two  more  Socialists. 

The  "People's  Investigating  Board"  began  its  probe  in  the 
spring  of  1912,  sending  representatives  along  the  aqueduct  in 
search  of  evidence.  For  several  weeks  the  board  grilled  Mulhol- 
land, Mathews,  and  other  aqueduct  officials  on  every  subject, 
from  the  inception  of  the  project  to  actual  construction. 

By  July  the  two  non-Socialist  members  of  the  board  resigned  in 
protest  against  what  they  termed  star  chamber  methods,  giving  a 
minority  report  which  favored  the  aqueduct  on  every  count.  In 
August  the  other  three  members  made  their  report,  with  heavier 
criticism  than  the  testimony  seemed  to  justify.  Mulholland's  ditch 
received  a  left-handed  exoneration,  however,  in  a  remarkable 
statement  that  "no  evidence  of  graft  has  been  developed,"  but 
that  if  the  board  had  been  given  more  time  "a  knowledge  of 


human  nature  indicates  that  men  would  have  been  found  who 
had  succumbed  to  temptation." 

The  aqueduct's  long  trial  was  over.  Having  steered  his  under- 
taking through  hard  times  and  strikes,  political  attacks  and  in- 
quisitions, Mulholland  realized  that  a  great  engineer's  job  is  only 
partly  technical. 

Before  him  there  remained  the  gigantic  task  of  finishing  the 
conduit,  and  this  his  crewmen  were  still  accomplishing  in  spite  of 
opposition.  By  the  middle  of  1912  the  work  was,  in  point  of 
distance,  ninety  per  cent  completed,  and  Mulholland  was  able 
to  report  that  "the  end  of  our  task  seems  fairly  in  sight."  Most 
of  the  tunnels  had  been  driven  and  lined  with  concrete,  while 
a  half  dozen  earth-fill  dams,  from  Haiwee  to  San  Fernando,  were 
under  final  construction. 

Mulholland,  almost  exhausted  from  the  enormous  five-year 
work,  fortified  himself  with  the  conviction  that,  as  he  had  once 
said,  "we  are  giving  the  city  a  magnificent  heritage.  If  it  were  not 
for  looking  ahead  to  the  time  of  reward,  a  reward  of  approbation 
that  will  surely  come  to  us,  five  or  six  years  from  now,  I  could 
not  go  on  with  the  work,  for  I  am  worn  out." 

The  final  task  was  the  installation  of  inverted  siphons — the  great 
airtight  pipes  by  which  the  water  would  be  made  to  drop  into 
and  out  of  canyons  below  the  aqueduct  grade  level.  Some  of  the 
first  of  these  were  laid  in  the  Saugus  Division,  the  mountainous 
section  just  north  of  San  Fernando  Valley,  where  two  of  the 
siphons  were  the  largest  known  concrete  pipes  in  the  United 
States.  Most  of  them,  however,  were  made  of  thick  steel  sections, 
rolled  and  punched  at  Eastern  mills  and  shipped  by  rail  to  be 
riveted  in  the  field.  Varying  from  eight  to  ten  feet  in  diameter, 
they  were  laid  on  concrete  piers  in  the  canyon  bottoms  and  in- 
stalled on  the  hillsides  by  means  of  electric  tramways.  Largest 
pipe  in  the  whole  aqueduct  was  the  four-mile  steel  and  concrete 
siphon  at  the  west  end  of  Antelope  Valley,  to  which  long  mule 
teams  hauled  steel  thirty-five  miles  from  the  rail  town  of  Mojave. 
The  most  harrowing  siphon  work  was  performed  in  the  rugged 
Jawbone  Division  under  Superintendent  Harvey  A.  Van  Norman, 
previously  chief  of  Owens  Valley  dredging  operations.  Its  largest 
siphon  was  the  7ooo-foot  monster  in  Jawbone  Canyon,  where  a 


drop  of  850  feet  from  the  grade  of  the  conduit  necessitated  steel 
casing  over  an  inch  thick  in  the  bottom  section.  While  neither  the 
stoutest  nor  the  longest  siphon  on  the  aqueduct,  the  Jawbone  was 
described,  because  of  its  thickness  of  steel  and  extreme  pressure 
head,  as  "the  most  noteworthy  pipe  in  the  United  States." 

In  January  1912  the  work  was  started  in  the  canyon  bottom, 
where  the  extra  thickness  of  the  steel  made  it  necessary  for  most 
of  the  riveting  to  be  done  at  the  Eastern  mill.  Several  pipes  thirty- 
six  feet  long,  weighing  twenty-six  tons  apiece,  were  shipped  by 
rail  to  Cinco  station,  and  were  pulled  the  last  four  miles  to  the 
siphon  by  two  specially  rigged  mule  teams.  Each  outfit  had  a 
pair  of  great  flat-decked  wagons  supported  by  steel  wheels  with 
tires  two  feet  wide.  They  were  drawn  by  no  less  than  fifty-two 
mules,  using  three  parallel  jerk  lines  of  sixteen  mules  each,  with 
a  lead  pair  at  the  head  and  two  wheelers  on  the  tongue.  Such  a 
job  of  mule  skinning  required  highly  skilled  work  from  the  most 
experienced  drivers  on  the  desert. 

First  skinner  to  take  the  fifty-two  mules  up  Jawbone  Canyon 
was  a  burly  fellow  named  Wilson.  At  the  end  of  his  initial  round 
trip  he  felt  so  satisfied  with  himself  that  he  promptly  got  into  a 
scrap  with  the  corral  wrangler  at  Cinco  and  beat  him  over  the 
head  with  a  piece  of  steel.  Division  Superintendent  Van  Norman 
soon  arrived  and  found  that  Wilson  had  been  the  aggressor.  He 
fired  the  fifty-two-mule  driver  on  the  spot. 

"Where  you  going  to  get  another  skinner?"  demanded  Wilson. 

Van  Norman  told  him  he  was  driving  into  Mojave  to  recruit 

"He  better  come  out  here  shootin'!"  boasted  the  disgruntled 
teamster.  "This  is  my  job." 

The  engineer  knew  Wilson  was  armed,  and  already  felt  re- 
morseful over  the  fate  of  the  new  driver  he  would  have  to  hire. 
Next  morning  in  Mojave  he  was  directed  to  the  hotel  room  of 
"Whistling  Dick,"  a  leather-skinned  teamster,  seventy-four  years 
old,  who  had  hauled  borax  from  Death  Valley  in  earlier  days. 

"Dick,"  he  asked,  "how  many  mules  can  you  drive?" 

The  old  skinner,  full  of  professional  pride,  threw  his  head  back 
in  wide-eyed  disgust. 

"Just  as  far  as  I  can  see  'em,"  he  answered  solemnly. 

Van  Norman  told  him  he  wanted  a  fifty-two-mule  teamster, 

but  warned  that  Wilson  had  threatened  any  man  who  came  to 
take  his  place.  Apparently  unimpressed,  Whistling  Dick  gathered 
his  few  belongings  and  checked  out  of  the  hotel. 

Just  as  the  two  men  stepped  into  the  street  Wilson  himself 
reeled  out  of  the  adjacent  saloon  and  loudly  demanded  where 
Dick  was  going.  The  grizzled  teamster  reared  back  once  more 
and  eyed  Wilson  with  contempt. 

"None  of  your  damned  business,"  he  roared,  then  added: 
"And  furthermore,  I  hear  you've  been  braggin'  about  defendin' 
that  job  up  on  the  Jawbone.  If  you  come  up  there  you  better 
come  heeled,  'cause  I  got  mine  right  here."  And  he  patted  a  sig- 
nificant bulge  in  his  shirt. 

Wilson,  king  of  the  mule  skinners,  decided  he  had  no  use  for 
that  hauling  job  in  Jawbone  Canyon.  Van  Norman,  who  had 
been  ready  to  duck  for  his  life,  drove  peacefully  out  of  town  with 
Whistling  Dick,  satisfied  that  he  had  found  the  right  man. 

For  several  months  the  gray-bearded  mule  skinner,  perched  on 
the  back  of  his  near  wheeler,  was  a  familiar  sight  from  Cinco  to  the 
Jawbone  siphon.  While  his  mules  tugged  through  the  heavy  sands 
of  the  canyon  bottom  the  mountainsides  echoed  to  Dick's  com- 
manding whistles  and  the  crack  of  his  blacksnake. 

Transportation  of  the  giant  siphon  was  nearly  finished  when 
tragedy  one  day  overtook  the  plodding  mule  teams.  Unexplain- 
ably  Whistling  Dick  fell  from  his  saddle  without  stopping  the 
mules;  the  "swamper"  on  the  rear  wagon  first  saw  his  body  lying 
crushed  in  the  track  of  the  massive  wagon  wheels.  At  seventy- 
four,  after  a  lifetime  of  mule  skinning,  Dick  had  at  last  fallen 
victim  to  his  hard-bitten  profession. 

By  March  1913  the  great  pipe  of  the  Jawbone  siphon  had  inched 
its  way  up  both  sides  of  the  canyon  to  its  points  of  entry  into  the 
adjacent  tunnels;  the  last  big  project  on  the  Los  Angeles  Aque- 
duct was  finished. 

As  early  as  February  13  a  small  but  jubilant  party  including 
Mulholland,  Lippincott,  and  Van  Norman  arrived  at  the  newly 
completed  intake  for  the  momentous  task  of  turning  the  Owens 
River  into  the  big  ditch.  Mrs.  Van  Norman  christened  the  canal 
head  gate  with  a  bottle  of  champagne,  and  while  one  of  the 
group  took  motion  pictures  of  the  historic  event  Mulholland  and 


his  friends  turned  the  wheels  that  opened  the  four  controlling 
gates.  With  a  great  roaring  surge,  200  second-feet  of  sparkling 
water  poured  out  of  the  Owens  River  bed  and  into  the  aqueduct 

After  Haiwee  Reservoir  had  filled,  Mulholland,  Van  Norman, 
and  other  water  men  released  its  gates  early  in  May  and  followed 
the  head  of  the  stream  for  fifty  hours  across  the  Mojave  Desert 
to  the  reservoir  at  the  upper  end  of  Elizabeth  Tunnel,  stopping 
from  time  to  time  to  observe  the  flow  through  manholes  in  the 
conduit.  Elated  with  the  success  of  their  undertaking,  the  engi- 
neers dispersed  to  await  the  filling  of  this  second  storage  place. 

They  did  not  know  that  ten  miles  south  of  Little  Lake  the  Sand 
Canyon  siphon  had  sprung  a  huge  crack  and  was  spilling  water 
down  the  north  side  of  the  ravine.  Built  of  two  underground 
tunnels  down  each  mountainside,  and  connected  by  a  steel  pipe 
across  the  canyon,  this  siphon  was  the  only  one  of  its  kind  on  the 

The  necessary  steel  was  rushed  up  from  Los  Angeles  and  re- 
pairs were  begun  within  forty-eight  hours.  On  May  16  enough 
water  was  turned  back  into  the  pipe  to  reveal  a  small  leak  on  the 
south  slope.  Determined  to  test  the  siphon  to  its  full  capacity, 
even  if  it  meant  destruction,  the  aqueduct  men  gradually  in- 
creased the  flow. 

As  the  water  burst  out  of  the  cracks  the  whole  south  mountain- 
side began  to  slip.  When  the  flow  reached  42  second-feet,  the 
entire  covering  of  the  tunnel  was  lifted  upward  by  the  pressure. 
Water  fountained  into  the  air,  and  the  canyon  wall  burst  loose 
and  crashed  into  the  ravine.  One  side  of  a  corrugated  workshop 
was  sheared  away  by  the  avalanche;  the  south  end  of  the  steel 
pipe  was  bombarded  with  huge  boulders  and  completely  en- 
tombed with  debris.  Some  tiny  seams  in  the  otherwise  solid  granite 
of  the  canyon  sides  had  permitted  the  fatal  leaks  that  brought 
the  destruction  of  the  siphon.  Harvey  Van  Norman,  having  re- 
turned to  Mojave  from  his  inspection  trip  with  Mulholland,  now 
received  an  emergency  phone  call  from  Los  Angeles. 

"Sand  Canyon  siphon  has  failed,"  said  the  Chief. 

Hurrying  northward  to  the  wrecked  section,  the  two  engineers 
surveyed  the  scene.  Van  Norman,  riding  a  work  sled  lowered  by 
rope,  went  into  the  pipe  and  inspected  its  shattered  sides.  Above 

his  head  as  he  descended,  great  chunks  of  concrete  hung  from 
the  reinforcing  rods,  threatening  him  as  long  as  he  remained  in 
the  hole.  Returning  to  the  surface,  Van  Norman  made  his  report 
to  Mulholland. 

"There's  nothing  to  do  with  this  but  put  a  steel  siphon  on  the 

"Go  ahead,"  returned  the  Chief.  In  a  few  days,  work  on  the 
new  pipe  began  alongside  the  old,  and  by  early  September  water 
was  flowing  southward  without  interruption.  Except  for  a  short 
section  of  power  piping  in  San  Francisquito  Canyon,  the  aque- 
duct was  finished  at  last.  Mulholland  had  built  his  big  ditch  in 
almost  exactly  the  five  years  and  $23,000,000  he  had  estimated — 
a  remarkable  distinction  among  municipal  enterprises. 

It  had  already  been  announced  that  the  long-heralded  ceremony 
for  the  aqueduct  completion,  scheduled  for  July  before  the  Sand 
Canyon  break,  would  be  held  on  November  5,  1913.  While  the 
reservoirs  on  either  side  of  Elizabeth  Tunnel  were  allowed  to  fill, 
the  people  of  Los  Angeles  made  ready  to  celebrate  the  event  with 
typical  Southern  California  enthusiasm.  An  impressive  aqueduct 
display  was  built  at  Exposition  Park,  formal  dedication  ceremo- 
nies were  prepared  at  the  man-made  cascade  north  of  the  San 
Fernando  reservoirs,  and  a  final  grand  parade  was  planned  for 
downtown  Los  Angeles. 

No  less  exuberantly  did  Los  Angeles — and  all  of  California — 
turn  to  William  Mulholland  in  the  hour  of  his  greatest  triumph. 
The  aqueduct  was  recognized  across  the  country  as  the  finest  in 
America  and  second  only  to  the  Panama  Canal  as  an  engineering 
feat.  The  Chief  was  showered  with  honors,  introduced  every- 
where as  "the  Goethals  of  the  West"  or  "California's  Greatest 
Man."  Engineering  societies  gave  him  high  awards  and  congratu- 
lations, while  the  University  of  California  conferred  on  him  an 
honorary  doctor's  degree. 

Early  in  1913,  as  a  new  mayoralty  campaign  loomed  in  Los 
Angeles,  publisher  E.  T.  Earl  of  the  Express  began  campaigning 
for  Mulholland  as  the  city's  next  mayor.  General  Otis  of  the 
Times  then  wrote  to  Mulholland  that  for  once  Earl  had  made  a 
suggestion  with  which  he  could  agree.  A  committee  of  determined 
Angelenos  waited  on  the  water  chief  at  his  office  and  one  by  one 


recited  to  him  the  superlative  qualifications  which  made  him 
exactly  suited  for  the  city's  highest  office.  Mulholland  was  clearly 
moved  by  their  words.  But  when  they  had  finished  he  solemnly 
put  an  end  to  the  entire  affair  with  a  startling  but  typical  reply : 

"Gentlemen,  I  would  rather  give  birth  to  a  porcupine  back- 
wards than  be  mayor  of  Los  Angeles." 

Yet  in  his  hour  of  success  Mulholland  was  burdened  with  sor- 
row over  the  protracted  illness  of  his  wife,  Lillian.  Her  confine- 
ment in  a  Los  Angeles  hospital  during  the  last  few  months  of 
aqueduct  construction  had  made  his  days  doubly  wearisome. 
When  he  awoke  each  morning  his  first  move  was  to  call  the  hos- 
pital for  word  of  her  status;  as  soon  as  he  reached  Los  Angeles 
after  every  trip  afield  his  first  steps  led  to  her  bedside.  As  the 
time  for  the  aqueduct  ceremony  drew  near  Mrs.  Mulholland's 
condition  turned  suddenly  worse,  and  her  recovery  was  doubtful. 
When  Mulholland  left  Los  Angeles  for  the  San  Fernando  cascade 
on  November  5,  he  asked  that  any  change  in  his  wife's  condition 
be  reported  to  him  at  the  dedication  ceremony. 

But  though  his  wife's  health  weighed  heavily  on  him,  Mulhol- 
land's thoughts  undoubtedly  turned  to  the  significance  of  the 
new  aqueduct  as  his  staff  automobile  carried  him  northward  on 
that  historic  day.  The  waters  of  Owens  River,  he  knew,  had 
not  come  too  soon.  Though  the  city's  own  water  system  from  the 
Los  Angeles  River  had  been  successfully  stretched  to  cover  its 
increased  customers,  some  half-dozen  private  water  companies  in 
the  suburbs  had  been  unable  to  meet  demand  during  the  hot  days 
of  the  previous  summer.  There  were  instances  where  citizens  had 
stayed  up  till  early  morning  with  their  faucets  wide  open  to  catch 
enough  drippings  in  pails  for  domestic  needs  the  next  day. 

The  nightmare  of  water  famine  would  now  be  over;  Mulhol- 
land himself  would  turn  the  waters  of  Owens  River  into  the 
San  Fernando  Reservoir.  From  there  water  mains  were  almost 
completed  to  carry  the  vast  new  source  to  city  water  taps,  with 
enough  left  over  to  irrigate  a  valley  and  provide  for  a  population 
growth  of  two  million. 

At  the  San  Fernando  cascade  Mulholland  found  a  crowd  of 
some  forty  thousand  exuberant  citizens,  who  had  ridden  from 
every  point  in  the  Southland  by  carriage,  auto,  and  train.  Climb- 
ing to  the  platform  amid  a  welcoming  ovation,  he  wearily  took 


his  seat  among  the  notables  of  Los  Angeles.  Immediately  the 
ceremony  began.  The  first  speaker,  a  California  congressman, 
opened  with  a  declaration  that  captured  the  entire  significance  of 
the  event. 

"We  are  gathered  here  today  to  celebrate  the  coming  of  a  king 
— for  water  in  Southern  California  is  king  in  fact  if  not  in  name." 

At  length  the  chairman  introduced  "the  Honorable  William 
Mulholland — the  man  who  built  the  aqueduct."  As  though  they 
had  been  holding  themselves  in  readiness  for  this  moment,  the 
people  rose  to  their  feet,  clapping  and  cheering,  throwing  hand- 
kerchiefs and  hats  in  the  air.  Mulholland  trudged  forward  from 
his  seat,  bent  and  tired,  without  notes  or  any  idea  of  what  he 
would  say.  But  after  gazing  for  a  moment  at  the  vast  assembly, 
he  opened  with  generous  praise  for  all  the  men  who  had  built  the 
aqueduct,  from  his  top  advisers  to  the  humblest  laborers. 

"This  rude  platform,"  he  concluded,  "is  an  altar,  and  on  it  we 
are  here  consecrating  this  water  supply  and  dedicating  this  aque- 
duct to  you  and  your  children  and  your  children's  children — for 
all  time!" 

He  shuffled  back  to  his  seat  in  the  midst  of  another  ovation.  A 
silver  loving  cup  was  presented  to  him,  and  another  to  Lippin- 
cott,  who  made  a  short  speech  of  his  own.  Mulholland  then 
stepped  to  a  flagpole  on  the  grandstand  and  unfurled  the  Stars 
and  Stripes — an  act  that  was  the  prearranged  signal  for  the  engi- 
neers at  the  top  of  the  cascade  to  turn  the  great  wheels  and  release 
the  water.  Instantly  the  crowd  sent  up  its  cheers  once  more,  Army 
cannons  boomed,  a  brass  band  played  furiously. 

Mulholland  scarcely  heard  the  pandemonium.  His  eyes  were 
fixed  on  the  gates  above,  half  in  wonderment,  as  though  he 
feared  the  precious  water  might  not  appear.  With  painful  slow- 
ness the  metal  gates  rose.  A  trickle  of  water  emerged  and  started 
downward.  It  grew  to  a  stream,  then  to  a  raging  torrent,  churn- 
ing and  sparkling  down  the  cascade.  Just  above  the  grandstand  it 
sprayed  over  a  rise  in  the  incline  and  roared  past  toward  San 
Fernando  Reservoir. 

The  Chief  took  his  seat  with  a  sigh  that  was  almost  a  sob.  For 
a  moment  he  closed  his  eyes.  The  tired  spirit  gave  way  to  a  smile. 
He  threw  back  his  head  and  laughed  aloud. 

"Well,  it's  finished!" 


Without  waiting  for  the  scheduled  presentation  speeches,  by 
which  Mulholland  was  to  turn  the  aqueduct  over  to  the  city,  the 
multitude  stampeded  to  the  side  of  the  cascade  to  watch  the 
seething  torrent.  Mulholland  and  Mayor  H.  H.  Rose,  who  was  to 
receive  the  water  for  the  city,  were  left  virtually  without  an  audi- 
ence. With  the  roar  of  the  water  and  his  own  emotion  all  but 
stifling  his  voice,  Mulholland  turned  to  the  mayor  and  made  the 
five-word  speech  that  has  become  famous: 

"There  it  is.  Take  it." 

A  few  moments  later  word  came  to  him  that  his  wife  had 
passed  her  crisis  in  the  hospital  and  was  now  out  of  danger.  The 
Chief  went  forward  joyfully  to  join  the  crowd  in  taking  a  drink 
of  Owens  River  water,  relieved  at  last  of  two  burdens  that  had 
made  this  day  the  climax  of  his  life. 

4:     The  Seeds  of  Conflict 

Notably  absent  from  the  1913  dedication  ceremonies  at  San  Fer- 
nando was  the  man  who  conceived  the  Los  Angeles  Aqueduct — 
Fred  Eaton.  But  Mulholland  had  not  failed  to  mention  his  old 
friend  as  the  "father"  of  the  project  in  his  preliminary  speech. 

"He  planned  it,"  said  the  Chief.  "We  simply  put  together  the 
bricks  and  mortar." 

Yet  even  at  that  time  an  irreparable  breach  had  begun  to  sepa- 
rate the  two  stalwarts  who  had  laid  the  city's  new  water  founda- 
tions. Fred  Eaton  was  convinced  that  his  Long  Valley  ranch 
would  eventually  be  needed  as  a  storage  reservoir  by  the  sprouting 
metropolis,  and  was  determined  that  he  would  not  be  so  gener- 
ous in  its  disposition  as  he  had  already  been  in  allowing  the  aque- 
duct to  be  a  non-profit  municipal  enterprise. 

The  city  already  held  an  easement  to  flood  the  valley  with  a 
loo-foot  dam.  Such  a  reservoir  would  contain  some  68,000  acre- 
feet  of  water — only  a  fraction  of  Long  Valley's  capacity  as  a  year- 
to-year  regulator  of  supply.  A  i4O-foot  dam,  according  to  Mulhol- 
land's  Water  Department  report  in  1907,  would  impound  260,000 
acre-feet — enough  to  tide  the  city  over  dry  years  with  "the  full 
amount  of  400  second-feet  for  which  the  aqueduct  has  been  de- 

signed."  But  until  Los  Angeles  had  grown  enough  to  need  that 
amount  Mulholland  believed  it  was  unnecessary  to  build  the  Long 
Valley  dam. 

During  construction  of  the  aqueduct  Fred  Eaton  talked  with 
Mulholland  and  offered  to  sell  the  city  the  rest  of  the  1 2,000  acres 
in  the  Long  Valley  site.  The  price  he  asked  was  indefinite  and 
based  on  the  land's  value  to  the  city  as  a  reservoir;  but  it  was  not 
less  than  a  million  dollars.  Mulholland,  taken  aback  by  Eaton's 
figures,  declined  to  buy. 

On  several  other  occasions  Eaton  made  the  same  overtures, 
with  growing  resentment  at  Mulholland's  repeated  refusal  to  deal. 
For  his  part,  the  Chief  was  disappointed  at  Eaton's  price  demand, 
and  believed  he  was  trying  to  take  advantage  of  his  friendship  for 
personal  gain.  At  length  the  rift  became  an  open  break,  with  the 
two  old  friends  refusing  to  meet  each  other. 

"I'll  buy  Long  Valley  three  years  after  Eaton  is  dead,"  Mulhol- 
land is  credited  with  saying.  It  is  a  fact,  however,  that  his  bitter- 
ness on  the  subject  was  generally  kept  to  himself.  Eaton  in  turn 
refused  to  attend  the  dedication  of  the  aqueduct  in  November 
1913,  with  the  forlorn  excuse  that  because  of  autumn  rains  the 
first  water  to  come  down  the  cascade  would  not  be  true  Owens 
River  water. 

The  impasse  caused  the  city  to  turn  away  from  any  idea  of 
constructing  more  than  a  loo-foot  dam  while  Eaton  ruled  Long 
Valley.  Such  a  decision  would  eliminate  a  guarantee  of  ample 
water  for  irrigators  in  upper  Owens  Valley,  and  its  farmers  sought 
a  water  understanding  with  Los  Angeles.  With  its  aqueduct  intake 
lying  below  the  head  gates  of  most  of  the  irrigating  ditches  along 
Owens  River,  Los  Angeles  itself  stood  in  need  of  an  agree- 
ment with  valley  water  users. 

On  April  5,  1913,  a  Los  Angeles  committee,  including  Mulhol- 
land and  W.  B.  Mathews,  met  at  Bishop  with  the  heads  of  the 
valley  ditch  companies.  A  list  of  ten  requests  was  presented  by  the 
farmers,  and  the  city  men  promptly  conceded  all  but  one — the 
abandonment  of  power  development  in  the  Owens  River  gorge. 
In  general  the  agreement  guaranteed  the  rights  of  valley  users  in 
storing  water  and  irrigating  land  without  interference,  and  com- 
mitted the  city  to  recognize  the  right  of  each  ditch  to  a  certain 
flow  from  Owens  River. 


The  conference  adjourned  with  what  was  hailed  as  a  perma- 
nent settlement  on  Owens  Valley  water.  Mulholland  and  Mathews 
left  Bishop  in  an  atmosphere  of  good  will  and  optimism.  If  this 
agreement  could  have  been  fulfilled  by  both  sides  it  almost  cer- 
tainly could  have  forestalled  the  worst  aspects  of  the  Owens 
River  controversy. 

According  to  the  understanding,  the  valley  people  brought  a 
friendly  suit  against  Los  Angeles  on  July  2,  to  make  the  agree- 
ment a  matter  of  legality.  But  on  the  same  day  another  suit  was 
filed  in  Los  Angeles  to  prevent  the  city  from  making  an  agree- 
ment on  its  water  rights  with  the  people  of  Inyo  County.  The 
plaintiff  was  one  of  the  Socialist  members  of  the  "People's 
Board"  which  had  investigated  the  aqueduct  the  year  before.  His 
backers  are  said  to  have  been  one  of  the  Los  Angeles  electric  com- 
panies, which  was  evidently  moved  to  action  by  the  city's  insist- 
ence on  municipal  power  development  in  the  Owens  River 
gorge.  The  injunction  suit  was  thrown  out  of  court  the  following 
spring,  but  it  had  served  a  tragic  purpose  in  spiking  the  only  real 
agreement  ever  made  between  Los  Angeles  and  the  Owens  Valley 

By  the  end  of  1914  the  city  officials  had  become  wary  of  guar- 
anteeing a  certain  flow  to  valley  ditches  without  first  determining 
the  amount  of  water  that  would  ordinarily  be  left  for  the  aque- 
duct. There  followed  a  series  of  delays,  for  which  both  city  and 
valley  people  were  responsible.  Los  Angeles  men  at  length  secured 
permission  to  gauge  the  flow  in  the  irrigation  ditches  and  submit- 
ted their  figures  in  1919.  They  were  not  acceptable  to  valley  rep- 
resentatives, who  thereupon  took  two  more  years  to  make  their 
own  measurements.  When  the  two  sides  opened  negotiations  early 
in  1921,  it  was  apparent  that  a  loo-foot  dam  could  not  guarantee 
enough  water  for  all  in  time  of  drought.  In  one  meeting  after 
another  the  ranchers  insisted  that  only  a  dam  at  least  140  feet 
high  could  fulfill  their  needs. 

But  the  growing  rupture  between  valley  and  city  forces  did  not 
prevent  Water  Department  officials  from  opening  construction  on 
the  loo-foot  dam,  which  the  astounding  growth  of  Los  Angeles 
was  fast  making  necessary.  Within  a  year  diversion  tunnels  and 
other  preliminaries  had  been  made  for  a  structure  with  a  base 

large  enough  to  support  a  later  height  of  150  feet,  if  and  when  a 
settlement  could  be  made  with  Eaton. 

Valley  irrigators  protested  that  this  was  no  guarantee,  and  in 
May  1922  they  filed  suit  to  prevent  Los  Angeles  from  building  its 
loo-foot  dam.  They  would  not  allow  any  interference  with  the 
river's  flow  as  long  as  their  irrigation  needs  were  not  protected. 
Later  Fred  Eaton  filed  a  similar  suit  on  the  grounds  that  no  dam 
should  be  constructed  which  could  ever  create  a  higher  reservoir 
than  the  loo-foot  easement  he  had  given  the  city. 

If  Eaton's  purpose  was  to  force  Los  Angeles  to  buy  Long  Valley, 
he  was  disappointed.  The  city  stopped  work  on  the  dam  after 
spending  about  $200,000.  Neither  suit  was  brought  to  trial;  ap- 
parently both  sides  preferred  to  avoid  a  legal  battle  that  might 
jeopardize  their  own  water  claims.  Owens  River  was  left  un- 
controlled, and  the  storage  of  ample  water  for  all  was  tragically 

By  the  summer  of  1921  it  was  plain  that  another  drought 
period  had  struck  California,  and  the  opponents  found  them- 
selves less  concerned  with  intangible  legalities  than  with  an 
open  struggle  for  the  water  itself.  The  seriousness  of  the  shortage 
became  apparent  when  a  party  of  men  invaded  Long  Valley  in 
July  of  that  year,  tearing  out  some  of  Fred  Eaton's  irrigation 
dams  on  the  mountain  streams  to  allow  the  water  to  reach 
Owens  River.  Part  of  the  group  were  city  men  and  part  valley 
irrigators,  who  were  supposed  to  have  made  this  a  rather  general 
practice  in  times  of  drought. 

As  late  as  the  spring  of  1924,  in  spite  of  fiery  protests  from 
Fred  Eaton,  crews  of  men  were  cutting  his  irrigation  ditches. 
Harold  Eaton,  then  manager  of  his  father's  cattle  business,  was 
riding  along  Convict  Creek  one  day  and  came  upon  a  group  of 
them  at  work. 

"What  the  hell  you  doin'  here?"  he  demanded. 

"We're  going  to  turn  the  water  back  into  the  river,"  answered 
the  leader,  a  Los  Angeles  representative. 

"What'll  you  do,"  asked  Eaton,  "if  I  go  get  my  shotgun?" 

The  other  replied  that  he  would  have  to  wait  and  see.  Tempers 
cooled  in  the  conversation  that  followed  and  a  clash  was  averted. 
But  in  the  next  few  days  the  men  continued  to  cut  the  Long 
Valley  ditches.  Fred  Eaton  then  placed  armed  guards  along  his 


creeks  and  restricted  the  movements  of  every  traveler  through  his 

"They  say  I  am  no  longer  a  friend  of  the  city,"  he  told  an 
inquirer.  "I  deny  that.  But  if  they  try  to  take  something  of  mine 
away  from  me  I'll  fight." 

To  Los  Angeles,  however,  the  matter  of  Eaton's  ditches  was 
now  only  a  small  part  of  a  larger  problem.  By  the  early  1 9205  the 
drought  cycle,  together  with  the  agricultural  boom  in  San  Fer- 
nando Valley,  had  placed  Los  Angeles  under  threat  of  another 
water  famine. 

Before  the  aqueduct's  completion  the  city  had  accepted  Mul- 
holland's  plan  to  use  excess  water  only  in  adjacent  farm  sections 
likely  to  be  absorbed  in  the  spreading  urban  districts.  In  this  way 
the  growing  city  would  never  have  to  deprive  the  farmers  of 
water,  for  their  lands  would  gradually  be  transformed  into  resi- 
dential areas  as  Los  Angeles  expanded.  For  such  a  purpose  the 
San  Fernando  Valley  was  by  nature  the  most  practical,  since  over 
a  third  of  its  irrigation  water  found  its  way  by  seepage  into  the 
Los  Angeles  River  to  be  used  again  by  the  city. 

In  May  1915  valley  residents  voted  to  join  Los  Angeles,  start- 
ing the  process  of  community  annexations  for  water  purposes 
which  have  given  the  city  the  biggest  area  of  any  metropolis  in 
the  world.  Three  weeks  later  the  first  Owens  River  water  was  sold 
for  irrigation.  San  Fernando  Valley,  previously  a  sandy  desert 
that  had  known  only  dry  wheat  farming,  began  to  blossom. 
Orchards  of  walnuts  and  oranges,  fields  of  vegetables  and  melons 
sprang  up  almost  as  fast  as  Mulholland's  crews  laid  the  city's 
water  pipes.  In  the  southern  half  of  the  valley,  subdivided  in 
1911  by  a  group  including  General  Otis  and  Harry  Chandler  of 
the  Times,  the  new  towns  of  Van  Nuys  and  Lankershim  (now 
North  Hollywood)  were  booming  with  trade.  From  a  total  of 
3000  crop  acres  in  1914,  the  valley's  irrigated  land  spread  to  an 
astounding  75,000  acres  three  years  later.  Prices  leaped  from  a 
few  dollars  per  acre  to  an  average  of  $300  after  the  coming  of 
Owens  River  water — giving  rise  to  a  classic  parody  on  a  Julia 
Carney  poem: 

Little  drops  of  water  on  little  grains  of  sand, 
Make  a  hell  of  a  difference  in  the  price  of  land. 


When  the  first  drought  cycle  was  felt  in  1921,  San  Fernando 
Valley  was  using  an  average  of  104  second-feet  for  irrigation  and 
the  city's  domestic  consumers  were  taking  1 25  second-feet,  about 
half  of  which  was  supplied  by  the  Los  Angeles  River.  During 
summer  irrigation  the  valley  used  as  high  as  277  second-feet — an 
amount  dangerously  near  Owens  River's  mean  flow  of  less  than 
300  second-feet  during  the  drought. 

By  the  spring  of  1923,  Haiwee  Reservoir  was  lowered  to  an 
alarming  level.  Mulholland  was  forced  to  make  several  arbitrary 
shutoffs  of  irrigation  water  in  San  Fernando  Valley.  Farms  were 
soon  suffering  from  water  shortages  that  threatened  the  entire 
alfalfa  crop.  The  great  aqueduct  that  had  been  built  for  fifty 
years  of  growth  was  already  proving  inadequate  for  Los  Angeles, 
whose  576,000  census  in  1920  had  made  it  the  largest  metropolis 
in  the  West. 

Mulholland's  first  recourse  was  to  make  heavy  improvements 
in  Owens  Valley's  water  yield.  For  several  years  the  city  had  been 
pumping  water  from  its  rich  underground  storage.  But  the  water 
table  was  already  sinking  to  remote  depths,  causing  more  than 
one  farmer  in  the  Independence  area  to  bring  injunction  suits 
against  municipal  pumping.  The  disputes  were  almost  invariably 
settled  by  the  city's  purchase  of  the  plaintiff's  property,  but  Mul- 
holland knew  this  exigency  could  never  solve  the  basic  problem 
of  dropping  water  levels.  To  get  more  water  for  the  aqueduct, 
the  department  soon  renewed  the  purchase  of  riparian  rights  in 
streams  and  canals,  first  in  the  ranches  of  the  Independence  area, 
and  then  farther  up  the  river  toward  the  communities  of  Big 
Pine  and  Bishop. 

Most  of  the  people  in  the  upper  valley  saw  the  city's  approach 
as  a  disrupting  outside  force  that  must  be  staunchly  resisted. 
Otherwise,  they  told  themselves,  the  fertile,  mountainbound 
homeland  they  had  developed  would  suffer  the  same  fate  as  the 
parched  and  sterile  lower  valley. 

Leading  this  opposition  were  the  two  brothers  who  dominated 
the  region's  economic  life,  Wilfred  and  Mark  Watterson.  Their 
Inyo  County  Bank  maintained  offices  in  three,  and  later  four, 
towns  in  the  valley.  In  1922  they  had  bought  out  the  competing 
First  National  Bank  of  Bishop  and  made  themselves  the  financial 
kings  of  eastern  California.  The  role  did  not  detract  from  their 

unusual  popularity;  valley  people  liked  to  say  of  them  that  they 
never  foreclosed  a  mortgage  or  sued  a  debtor. 

Mark,  the  younger,  was  the  good-natured  mixer,  inclined  to 
follow  the  lead  of  his  older  and  stronger  brother.  Wilfred,  though 
more  dignified  and  aloof,  was  nevertheless  extremely  well  liked; 
when  meeting  with  a  group  of  men  he  had  the  ability,  according 
to  one  observer,  to  "talk  'em  out  of  their  hind  legs."  His  principal 
weakness  was  a  disposition  to  invest  in  risky  projects  for  quick 
reward — an  obviously  dangerous  trait  for  a  banker. 

When  his  father,  William  Watterson,  had  headed  the  Inyo 
County  Bank,  Wilfred  had  argued  in  vain  for  investments  in  the 
mining  enterprises  then  abounding  in  Inyo  County.  After  the 
elder  Watterson's  death  in  1912,  however,  Mrs.  Eliza  Watterson 
allowed  her  son  to  have  his  way  in  mining  investments.  The  Na- 
tional Soda  Works  at  Keeler  on  Owens  Lake,  the  vanadium  and 
tungsten  mines  on  the  side  of  Mount  Tom  near  Bishop,  and 
several  other  concerns  were  absorbed  by  the  brothers  in  the  years 
that  followed. 

Beginning  in  1921,  the  postwar  recession  that  struck  hard  at 
the  nation's  farmers  had  forced  a  large  number  of  Inyo  settlers 
to  mortgage  their  property  to  the  Watterson  bank.  Thereafter  the 
combination  of  persuasive  ability  and  financial  control  gave  them 
unusual  power  in  their  domain. 

When  the  idea  of  an  irrigation  district  was  brought  forward 
in  the  spring  of  1922  as  a  means  of  consolidating  the  valley's 
strength  against  Los  Angeles,  it  was  the  Watterson  brothers  who 
quickly  took  the  leadership  of  the  movement.  By  turning  over 
their  water  rights  to  the  district,  they  urged  their  neighbors,  they 
would  be  able  to  "tie  the  water  to  the  land."  The  destiny  of  the 
upper  valley  would  then  be  in  the  hands  of  the  people  as  a 
whole,  and  no  longer  open  to  slow  conquest  by  Los  Angeles  land 

Opposition  to  the  district  came  from  another  faction  led  by 
an  uncle  of  the  two  bankers,  George  Watterson.  An  old  and  re- 
spected citizen  of  Inyo  County,  he  had  headed  the  valley  water 
negotiations  with  Los  Angeles  until  he  broke  with  his  nephews 
over  the  issue  of  the  i4O-foot  dam,  which  he  insisted  would  not 
be  worth  a  costly  fight  with  the  city.  George  Watterson  and  his 
friends  now  argued  that  the  bankers  were  trying  to  gain  personal 


control  of  individual  water  rights  through  the  proposed  irriga- 
tion district. 

But  on  December  26,  1922,  the  citizens  of  Big  Pine  and  Bishop 
voted  overwhelmingly  for  the  Owens  Valley  Irrigation  District. 
Wilfred  Watterson  was  installed  as  president  and  Mark  Watter- 
son  as  treasurer.  Within  a  month  the  owners  of  all  four  of  the 
main  upper-valley  ditches — Owens  River  Canal,  Bishop  Creek 
Ditch,  McNally  Ditch,  and  Owens  River  and  Big  Pine  Canal — 
had  voted  to  turn  their  water  rights  over  to  the  district. 

Before  the  transaction  could  be  completed  the  Los  Angeles 
Water  Department,  made  desperate  by  drought,  invaded  the 
upper  valley  in  spite  of  the  irrigation  district.  In  March  1923  the 
Los  Angeles  officials  hired  William  Symons,  president  of  McNally 
Ditch,  to  take  options  on  all  the  ditch  property  on  a  commission 

"Leave  no  one  out,"  he  was  instructed;  "we  want  them  all." 

Constructed  in  1877,  McNally  was  the  oldest  large-sized  canal 
on  Owens  River,  and  hence  carried  an  undeniable  right  to 
its  100  second-feet  of  water.  It  served  most  of  the  rich  lands  on 
the  east  side  of  the  river  in  the  Bishop  area,  making  up  an 
essential  part  of  the  new  irrigation  district.  Symons  quickly 
set  about  his  task  and  retained  Leicester  C.  Hall,  a  Bishop  attor- 
ney, to  aid  him.  Both  were  friends  of  George  Watterson,  leader 
of  the  anti-district  group,  who  joined  them  without  compensation 
in  securing  the  options. 

Within  twenty-four  hours  the  three  men  covered  almost  every 
farmhouse  on  the  river.  Offering  an  average  of  $7500  per  second- 
foot,  they  took  options  on  about  eighty  per  cent  of  the  McNally 
area — a  total  of  more  than  a  million  dollars'  worth  of  water. 

The  news  was  made  known  on  the  streets  of  Bishop  on  March 
1 6,  and  the  town  fairly  roared  with  indignation.  Overnight  the 
Los  Angeles  Water  Department  had  invaded  the  upper  valley 
and  captured  its  eastern  flank.  The  men  who  had  taken  the 
options  kindled  local  wrath  even  higher  by  taking  straightforward 
pride  in  their  act.  Attorney  Hall  justified  it  as  a  needed  curb 
against  the  ambitions  of  the  Wattersons,  and  is  said  to  have 
boasted  that  he  had  "cut  off  the  left  arm  of  the  irrigation 

But  to  almost  every  family  in  the  Bishop  area  who  did  not 


oppose  the  Wattersons  the  three  option  takers  became,  as  one 
newspaper  characterized  them,  "traitors  to  this  country."  The 
battle  lines  at  last  were  clearly  drawn.  From  the  purchase  of 
McNally  Ditch  dates  the  real  beginning  of  the  Owens  Valley 
water  war. 

To  agents  of  the  city  the  hostile  farmers  promised  that  no 
water  secured  by  the  McNally  deal  would  ever  be  allowed  to 
pass  on  down  the  river  to  the  aqueduct.  Despite  threats  of  legal 
action  from  Los  Angeles  men,  the  head  gates  of  other  ditches 
below  the  McNally  intake  were  soon  taking  in  the  extra  flow 
of  its  water,  and  the  irrigators  were  happily  agreeing  that  the 
city  purchase  had  solved  a  pressing  water  shortage. 

Los  Angeles  agents  in  turn  retaliated  by  going  into  the  Bishop 
farm  area  and  making  indiscriminate  purchases  of  land  and 
water.  The  practice  differed  sharply  from  the  policy  shown  on 
McNally  and  the  ditches  of  the  lower  valley,  which  were  bought 
in  entirety  by  the  offer  of  attractive  prices,  so  that  no  individual 
farmers  were  left  with  the  task  of  maintaining  the  entire  ditch. 
It  was  claimed  by  the  infuriated  valley  people  that  the  option 
takers  were  deliberately  "checkerboarding"  the  area  to  impress 
reluctant  owners  with  the  futility  of  resisting  sale.  City  officials 
denied  the  charges,  but  if  the  "checkerboarding"  was  not 
deliberate  it  had  the  same  effect  and  produced  the  same  reaction. 

Most  strategic  ditch  involved  was  the  Owens  River  and  Big 
Pine  Canal,  whose  100  second-feet  of  water  rights  irrigated  more 
than  half  the  lands  around  the  town  of  Big  Pine.  Although  a 
younger  water  filing  than  the  McNally,  and  hence  inferior  to 
it  in  right  of  usage,  the  Big  Pine  Canal  was  some  sixteen  miles 
downstream  from  the  city's  newly  won  property.  The  Los  Angeles 
water  that  was  allowed  to  flow  past  the  McNally  Ditch  toward  the 
aqueduct  intake  ran  the  gamut  of  every  head  gate  in  the  Bishop 
area,  and  if  any  was  left  it  found  its  way  into  the  waiting  mouth 
of  the  Big  Pine  Canal.  South  of  this  head  gate  Owens  River 
was  as  dry  as  the  Mojave  Desert  during  the  summer  months  of 
1923;  whatever  water  the  aqueduct  carried  was  taken  from  side 
streams  and  wells  in  the  lower  valley. 

The  city's  predicament  in  paying  more  than  a  million  dollars 
for  something  it  could  not  use  became  a  prime  joke  among  valley 
farmers  and  a  serious  problem  for  the  Water  Department.  Legal 

proceedings  against  the  diversions  might  take  months.  In  the 
meantime  Haiwee  Reservoir,  the  main  seasonal  regulator  for  the 
aqueduct,  was  reduced  to  a  scant  8000  acre-feet  by  the  severe 
drought.  Irrigation  water  in  San  Fernando  Valley  had  been  shut 
off  for  days  at  a  time  while  crops  withered  and  died.  Los  Angeles 
officials  were  ready  for  almost  any  measure  that  would  bring  an 
added  share  of  Owens  Valley  water  down  the  parched  conduit. 

City  men  first  invaded  the  Big  Pine  area  with  cash  and  option 
papers,  but  its  citizens  formed  themselves  into  a  "pool"  and  de- 
manded a  total  price  equal  to  about  $15,000  per  second-foot. 
Refusing  this  offer,  the  agents  turned  to  negotiations  with  the 
Owens  Valley  water  users  as  a  whole.  In  July  the  Board  of  Water 
Commissioners — the  governing  body  for  the  department — met 
with  W.  W.  Watterson  and  at  his  suggestion  framed  a  proposal 
for  a  peaceful  division  of  the  river.  The  valley  would  guarantee 
that  a  third  of  the  river's  flow  should  be  allowed  to  pass  on  down 
to  the  aqueduct,  and  the  city  would  agree  to  refrain  from  further 
land  and  water  purchases.  To  reach  final  agreement  on  this  plan, 
W.  B.  Mathews  and  H.  A.  Van  Norman  traveled  to  Bishop  for  a 
mass  meeting  of  the  valley  farmers  set  for  August  13,  1923. 

But  when  the  proposal  was  first  revealed  to  valley  farmers, 
stout  objection  came  from  the  Big  Pine  owners.  They  pointed  out 
that,  according  to  valley  custom,  water  not  used  by  any  one 
ditch  belonged  to  diversion  points  lower  on  the  river.  Un- 
doubtedly the  Big  Piners,  keenly  aware  that  they  were  the  masters 
of  the  situation,  did  not  want  to  submit  to  a  general  agreement 
without  playing  out  their  hand. 

Possibly  as  a  move  to  weaken  the  Big  Pine  position,  city  agents 
in  the  valley  sent  a  crew  of  men,  mules,  and  scrapers  to  Big  Pine 
to  take  what  one  of  them  described  as  "primitive  measures."  On 
the  same  day  as  the  scheduled  meeting  in  Bishop,  the  Big  Piners 
discovered  the  city  grading  equipment  and  the  beginning  of  a 
cut  opposite  the  mouth  of  their  canal.  Situated  at  the  point  of  a 
U-bend  in  the  meandering  river  bed,  the  farmers'  head  gate 
would  be  left  "high  and  dry"  if  a  ditch  were  completed  across 
that  narrow  neck  of  land. 

Within  a  few  minutes  a  carload  of  outraged  men  was  bouncing 
out  the  old  Bishop  road  to  the  home  of  George  Warren,  Big 
Pine's  representative  among  the  irrigation  district  directors. 


Warren,  shrewd  and  self-possessed,  had  served  for  several  years 
as  president  of  the  valley's  Associated  Chambers  of  Commerce. 
Quickly  his  friends  described  the  emergency. 

"We'll  have  to  get  an  injunction!"  one  of  them  concluded. 

Warren's  view,  however,  was  that  the  city's  officials  hoped  by 
this  means  to  precipitate  a  court  decision  on  its  water  claims. 

"We're  not  able  to  fight  the  city  in  court,"  he  argued:  "What 
we  want  is  a  shotgun  injunction!" 

Back  to  town  the  Big  Piners  rambled  in  their  auto,  stopping 
at  farmhouses  on  the  way  to  gather  recruits.  By  late  afternoon 
a  staunch  citizens'  posse  of  some  twenty  men,  armed  with  rifles  and 
shotguns,  headed  eastward  out  of  Big  Pine.  Crossing  Owens 
River,  they  stationed  themselves  on  the  neck  of  land  where  the 
city's  men  had  begun  the  cut. 

Shortly  afterward  George  Warren  and  another  rancher  followed 
a  set  of  wagon  tracks  leading  away  through  the  brush  to  the  place 
where  the  city  employees  were  camped.  In  charge  of  the  outfit 
was  a  man  whom  Warren  knew  as  "One-eyed"  Dodson.  After 
an  exchange  of  greetings  the  Big  Piner  stated  his  business. 

"Are  you  hired  to  fight  for  the  city?"  he  demanded. 

Dodson  announced  that  he  was  not. 

"Well,  we've  got  our  men  over  there  on  the  river,"  he  was 
told.  "We  don't  want  any  shootin',  but  we're  not  going  to  let  you 
make  that  cut." 

One-eyed  Dodson  decided  that  he  also  wanted  no  shooting. 

"We  won't  go  back  there  till  we  hear  from  you,"  he  agreed. 

At  the  bend  of  the  river  the  guardsmen  heard  Warren's  report 
with  satisfaction.  They  clinched  the  victory  by  throwing  the 
city's  grading  equipment  in  the  river,  and  settled  down  to  guard 
the  head  gate  through  the  night. 

With  their  strategic  hold  on  Owens  River  maintained  by 
"right  of  shotgun,"  the  Big  Piners  sent  a  strongly  backed  dele- 
gation to  the  water  meeting  at  Bishop  that  evening.  While  Van 
Norman  and  Mathews  stood  ready  to  sign  the  proposed  agree- 
ment, W.  W.  Watterson  presided  and  outlined  it  once  again  to 
the  crowded  room  of  farmers.  In  addition  to  the  allotment  of  a 
third  of  the  Owens  River  to  Los  Angeles,  it  provided  for  the 
abandonment  of  further  city  purchases,  the  lifting  of  the  valley's 
suit  against  the  loo-foot  Long  Valley  Dam,  and  the  construction 


of  water  wells  by  the  city  in  the  Bishop  area,  to  be  operated  by 
the  farmers  in  time  of  drought. 

After  Watterson  had  finished,  it  appeared  that  the  city  and  the 
valley  were  ready  to  mend  the  crisis  that  was  being  emphasized 
with  rifles  a  few  miles  to  the  south.  But  when  the  chairman  asked 
if  there  was  any  criticism  George  Warren  stood  up  in  his  place 
with  the  Big  Pine  delegation. 

"I  have  some  criticism  to  make,"  he  announced. 

Warren  then  went  over  the  agreement  point  by  point,  demand- 
ing why  the  irrigation  district  should  be  obliged  to  give  away  a 
third  of  its  water,  and  in  particular  why  Watterson  himself  had 
undertaken  to  be  so  generous.  Other  Big  Pine  speakers  followed, 
and  pointedly  asked  the  Los  Angeles  men  whether  they  intended 
to  complete  the  disputed  cut  if  the  agreement  were  denied.  The 
city  officials  were  noncommittal. 

"I  think  we'd  better  have  a  recess  and  talk  this  thing  over," 
decided  Watterson,  who  had  paled  with  anger  at  the  Big  Pine 

"We  don't  need  a  recess,"  Warren  shouted  back.  "That  agree- 
ment is  dead  as  hell!" 

The  negotiations  collapsed.  After  a  short  discussion  among 
groups  of  water  users,  Watterson  reported  to  Van  Norman  and 
Mathews  that  the  district  could  not  allow  any  water  to  pass  on 
down  the  river  "so  long  as  it  was  needed  in  the  valley."  Agree- 
ment was  impossible  without  the  co-operation  of  the  Big  Pine 
ditch  owners,  who  had  enforced  their  position  with  words  as  well 
as  guns. 

Within  two  days,  during  which  the  Big  Pine  riflemen  relieved 
each  other  in  a  round-the-clock  vigil,  the  city  crew  struck  camp 
and  departed.  Up  and  down  the  valley  the  Big  Pine  affair  was 
hailed  as  a  first  victory  in  the  Los  Angeles  fight.  It  would  stand 
out,  declared  the  Independence  paper,  "as  one  of  the  prominent 
things  that  saved  this  valley." 

"Los  Angeles,  it's  your  move  now,"  challenged  the  Big  Pine 
Citizen.  "We're  ready  for  you." 

But  it  soon  became  apparent  that  the  main  effect  of  the  Big 
Pine  stand  was  to  force  a  wholesale  purchase  by  the  city.  Los 
Angeles  agents  had  already  invaded  the  area,  and  formal 
negotiations  were  promptly  opened  by  the  Water  Department. 


At  a  stormy  meeting  on  October  15,  1923,  the  Big  Pine  owners 
voted  to  sell  4416  acres  and  the  water  rights  to  Los  Angeles  for 
$1,100,000 — a  price  which  made  more  than  one  rancher  finan- 
cially independent. 

Some  of  the  owners  and  their  families,  attached  to  the  land  by 
ties  stronger  than  money,  opposed  sale  at  any  price,  but  bitterly 
agreed  to  the  offer  rather  than  be  forced  to  maintain  the  entire 
Big  Pine  Canal  themselves.  It  was  such  minority  farmers,  selling 
against  their  will,  who  naturally  held  a  real  grievance  against 
the  Los  Angeles  invasion.  Yet  their  hatred  was  caused  more  by 
fear  than  actual  harm;  in  cases  where  isolated  ranchers  did  not 
sell,  their  full  share  of  water  was  scrupulously  delivered  by  the 
Los  Angeles  Water  Department.  Nor  did  the  city  take  a  single 
piece  of  land  or  water  by  condemnation  or  unlawful  means;  in 
practically  every  case  its  prices  were  above  the  valley  market, 
though  not  equaling  the  actual  value  of  the  water  as  applied  in 
Southern  California. 

The  people's  principal  objection  was  the  atmosphere  of  un- 
certainty which  the  city's  opportunist  methods  cast  over  the  valley. 
Where  indiscriminate  buying  was  employed,  individual  ranchers 
feared  their  neighbors  would  sell  out  and  leave  them  isolated. 
If  entire  ditches  were  purchased  the  townspeople  of  Bishop  and 
Big  Pine  noted  with  dismay  a  wholesale  exodus  of  customers  they 
had  served  for  years.  In  the  neglected  orchards  and  abandoned 
farmhouses  the  people  as  a  whole  saw  a  stark  contrast  to  the 
undisturbed  scene  in  Owens  Valley  before  the  city  came. 

Valley  hatred  was  further  inflamed  when  the  anti-Watterson 
forces,  led  by  lawyer  L.  C.  Hall,  took  steps  to  prevent  the  con- 
centration of  water  rights  in  the  irrigation  district.  Bonds  were 
issued  by  the  district  to  buy  the  stock  of  the  ditch  companies, 
but  Hall,  presumed  to  be  acting  on  behalf  of  the  city,  was  able 
to  disrupt  the  transaction  by  legal  proceedings  in  February  1924. 
This  frustration  of  plans  was  the  final  provocation  for  the  upper- 
valley  farmers. 

Though  their  irrigation  district  had  been  spiked,  they  still 
retained  possession  of  the  water  itself.  Los  Angeles  men  found 
that  in  spite  of  the  McNally  and  Big  Pine  purchases  most  of  the 
water  they  had  bought  twice  was  still  being  diverted  into  the 
private  ditches  in  the  upper  valley.  Obviously  the  farmers  were 


determined  that  the  city  should  not  settle  its  water  problem 
simply  by  amputating  two  ditches  from  the  rest  of  the  district. 
The  generous  prices  paid  for  the  McNally  and  Big  Pine  canals  had 
suddenly  impressed  them  with  the  value  of  their  water  to  the 
city  of  Los  Angeles.  By  continuing  to  withhold  the  water  already 
bought,  they  meant  to  make  the  city  officials  "buy  us  all,  or  leave 
us  alone." 

5:     California's  Civil  War 

By  early  1924  the  valley  population  was  so  aroused  that  unified 
action  came  hurriedly  and  with  deadly  earnestness.  At  meetings 
held  in  local  ranch  houses,  plans  were  laid  for  a  long  fight 
against  Los  Angeles.  These  sessions  developed  a  leadership  which 
earned  a  general  allegiance.  Most  dominant,  of  course,  were 
Wilfred  and  Mark  Watterson,  whose  personal  charm  and  finan- 
cial power  had  already  influenced  valley  affairs  for  years.  Chief 
among  the  ranchers  was  Karl  Keough,  whose  family  had  first 
settled  in  the  valley  in  the  18705.  Ordinarily  hearty  and  easy- 
going, Keough  displayed  such  steel  nerve  and  cool  judgment 
in  a  crisis  that  his  leadership  was  almost  automatic.  He  held  the 
presidency  of  the  Owens  River  Canal,  largest  of  all  the  valley 
ditches,  which  tapped  the  river  above  Bishop  and  paralleled  the 
main  stream  some  fourteen  miles  to  his  own  resort  at  Keough 
Hot  Springs. 

Providing  invaluable  publicity  for  the  cause  was  Harry  Glass- 
cock,  the  tall,  swashbuckling  editor  of  the  Owens  Valley  Herald. 
A  brother  of  the  Western  author,  Carl  B.  Glasscock,  the  head- 
strong newspaperman  was  indeed  the  firebrand  of  the  valley's 
fight.  Although  Willie  Chalfant,  editor  of  the  rival  Inyo  Register, 
was  more  generally  respected  and  equally  as  adamant  against  the 
city,  it  was  Glasscock  whose  newspaper  and  publicity  contacts 
were  wholly  at  the  disposal  of  the  valley's  leadership. 

In  addition  to  a  general  mobilization,  the  more  extreme  ele- 
ment in  the  Bishop  area  formed  a  secret  organization  to  back  up 
the  irrigation  district's  stand  with  force,  if  that  became  necessary. 
During  the  summer  of  1923,  while  a  revival  of  the  Ku  Klux  Klan 


was  raging  throughout  the  nation,  an  organizer  was  brought  into 
Owens  Valley  to  help  form  its  own  band  of  Klansmen.  An  inner 
group  of  this  faction  took  as  its  main  purpose  an  underground 
opposition  to  the  Los  Angeles  water  board  and  its  representatives. 
Night  meetings  were  held  in  open  fields,  where  auto  headlights 
were  turned  outward  to  prevent  the  approach  of  eavesdropping 
city  agents. 

One  of  this  group's  first  moves  was  a  series  of  night  visitations 
to  homes  of  those  who  had  opposed  the  irrigation  district.  George 
Watterson,  L.  G.  Hall,  and  Bill  Symons  were  all  told  that  their 
further  presence  in  Owens  Valley  was  at  the  risk  of  their  lives. 

The  demands  were  met  with  equal  firmness  from  the  threat- 
ened men,  who  held  that  they  were  the  real  defenders  of  the 
valley.  All  three  secured  gun  permits  and  began  carrying  revolvers 
for  self-protection.  Bill  Symons  of  McNally  Ditch  habitually 
carried  a  double-barreled  shotgun  whenever  he  drove  his  team 
into  Bishop.  When  George  Watterson  was  threatened  a  second 
time,  his  husky  young  son  Alfred  accosted  Mark  Watterson  in 
front  of  the  Bishop  bank. 

"If  anything  happens  to  my  father,"  he  told  him  in  a  rage, 
"I'll  hold  you  accountable." 

More  than  once  L.  C.  Hall  was  asked  by  Sheriff  Charles  Collins 
to  leave  the  valley  and  ease  the  situation.  At  length  the  officer 
asked  the  state  attorney  general  how  he  might  secure  Hall's  de- 

"If  he  wants  to  commit  suicide,"  said  the  official,  "you're  not 

Finally  Hall  was  prevailed  upon  to  restrict  his  operations  in 
Bishop.  He  remained  in  the  upper  valley,  however,  and  a  few 
months  later — on  August  27,  1924 — caused  a  sensation  by  ap- 
pearing once  more  on  the  streets  of  the  town.  A  band  of  deter- 
mined men  met  and  apparently  decided  that  if  their  supremacy 
was  to  be  maintained  the  time  had  come  to  fulfill  the  threats  that 
had  been  so  openly  disregarded. 

While  Mark  Watterson  paced  back  and  forth,  surveying  the 
scene  from  across  the  street,  three  or  four  men  entered  a 
restaurant  where  Hall  was  eating  at  the  counter.  Without  a  word 
they  seized  him,  snatched  the  gun  from  his  belt  and,  while  the 
startled  patrons  watched  in  amazement,  hustled  him  out  the  back 


door  with  a  strong  arm  about  his  neck.  He  was  placed  in  a  car 
in  the  alley,  and  in  a  moment  an  escort  of  four  autos  raced 
southward  out  of  Bishop,  carrying  a  grim  force  of  some  twenty- 
five  men.  Hall  was  almost  unconscious  when  the  grip  on  his  neck 
was  released  after  a  few  minutes'  drive.  It  was  then  made  plain  to 
him  that  he  was  to  be  hanged  as  a  valley  traitor. 

A  few  moments  later  the  caravan  passed  a  man  walking  along 
the  road;  the  fear  that  he  might  identify  the  cars  and  their  oc- 
cupants caused  a  sudden  disruption  in  plans.  Several  stops  were 
made  while  the  leaders  hurriedly  conversed.  Hall  was  taken  out  of 
the  car  more  than  once  in  the  confusion,  during  which  he  took 
opportunity  to  argue  his  own  defense. 

"I'm  fifty-two  years  old,"  he  told  his  captors  with  as  much 
composure  as  possible,  "and  I've  done  nothing  to  be  ashamed  of. 
You're  allowing  your  prejudice  to  make  you  commit  a  crime 
you'll  have  on  your  consciences  for  the  rest  of  your  lives." 

At  one  stop  near  a  cottonwood  tree  a  rope  was  produced,  and 
Hall  was  taken  from  the  car  once  more. 

"Give  my  regards  to  the  Wattersons,"  he  remarked  bitterly. 
"They're  the  ones  behind  this." 

When  Hall  believed  his  minutes  were  numbered  he  gave  voice 
to  a  distress  signal  known  to  the  Masonic  fraternity.  Several  men 
in  the  group  surrounding  him  were  Masons.  One  in  particular 
showed  evidence  that  he  had  been  moved  by  this  call  from  a 
lodge  brother.  It  was  soon  apparent  that  this  last  resort  had  saved 
Hall's  life. 

More  conferences  were  held,  and  the  caravan  then  headed 
southward  again  under  a  final  change  of  plans.  Hall  was  taken 
to  Big  Pine,  where  he  was  released  at  the  home  of  George  Warren 
with  orders  to  leave  the  county  and  never  return.  Next  day, 
after  Sheriff  Collins  had  arrived  and  advised  him  to  leave,  Hall 
made  his  way  out  of  the  valley  that  had  been  his  home  for  most 
of  the  past  twenty  years.  He  established  a  law  practice  in  South- 
ern California  and  now  lives  in  retirement  at  his  home  in 

Finding  their  deed  unchallenged  by  the  law,  the  extremists 
in  the  upper  valley  began  extending  their  threats  to  Los  Angeles 
employees.  The  right-of-way  and  land  agent,  who  had  been 
particularly  active  in  "checkerboard"  purchases,  was  visited  by 
a  delegation  and  told  to  leave  the  valley. 


His  place  as  the  city's  chief  local  representative  was  taken  by 
Edward  F.  Leahey,  a  husky,  red-haired  Irishman  who  was  re- 
spected by  most  citizens  as  a  man  of  straightforward  methods. 
Leahey  had  grown  with  the  Water  Department  since  the  days  of 
aqueduct  construction  and  was  already  acquainted  with  the 
valley  situation  after  several  years  of  employment  there.  A  man  of 
quick  wit  and  decisive  movements,  he  was  big  enough  physically 
to  carry  a  certain  assurance  in  spite  of  his  uncomfortable  position 
on  top  of  the  valley  powder  keg.  Inevitably  the  business  of  "run- 
ning people  out  of  the  valley"  was  mentioned  to  him  one  day  in 
his  Bishop  office  by  one  of  the  Klan  members. 

"Don't  think  much  of  it,"  snapped  Leahey. 

"If  your  life  was  threatened,  what  would  you  do?" 

"I'd  kill  just  as  many  as  I  could  draw  a  bead  on!" 

If  this  challenge  was  not  relayed  to  Klan  headquarters  it  at 
least  became  common  knowledge  among  Bishop's  radical  group. 
Members  may  have  failed  to  exercise  every  threat  against  their 
enemies,  but  it  was  not  from  a  lack  of  conviction.  They  possessed 
a  calculated  sense  of  how  far  their  lawlessness  could  be  carried 
without  hurting  their  own  cause. 

It  was  in  March  1924  that  the  withholding  of  water  by  the 
Bishop  farmers  began  to  aggravate  the  drought  conditions  al- 
ready prevailing.  With  consumption  in  Los  Angeles  often  running 
higher  than  the  aqueduct's  flow  into  Haiwee  Reservoir,  Southern 
California  once  more  faced  a  dangerous  water  shortage.  Mul- 
holland  was  in  Washington  when  he  was  notified  of  the  situation, 
and  promptly  wired  the  Water  Department  to  shut  off  irrigation 
altogether  in  San  Fernando  Valley.  Out  of  the  Los  Angeles  office 
came  a  crisp  notice:  "No  water  is  to  be  delivered  to  open  lands 
for  field  crops  until  we  get  a  rainfall." 

Faced  with  crop  destruction,  a  party  of  seven  leading  San 
Fernandans  headed  for  Owens  Valley  to  buy  50,000  acre-feet  of 
water.  In  Bishop  they  were  greeted  cordially  by  valley  leaders, 
were  shown  the  two  main  canals  running  brim  full,  and  then 
were  told  that  "not  one  drop  of  water"  was  for  sale.  They  were 
informed,  however,  that  the  entire  area — both  land  and  water — 
could  be  delivered  in  forty-eight  hours  for  a  total  of  $8,000,000, 
including  $750,000  in  reparations  to  placate  the  Bishop  mer- 
chants. At  last  the  upper  valley  had  found  a  strategic  opportunity 
to  state  its  own  terms  of  sale. 


Back  to  San  Fernando  went  the  delegation.  At  an  Associated 
Chamber  of  Commerce  meeting  on  March  18  they  made  a  dis- 
couraging report.  Mulholland,  having  returned  from  Washing- 
ton, attended  the  meeting  himself  and  helped  to  prevent  any 
serious  consideration  of  the  Bishop  proposal. 

Yet  it  was  soon  obvious  that  the  valley's  stand  would  not  de- 
pend on  a  single  rejection.  Starting  on  April  2,  a  publicity  cam- 
paign was  actively  opened  with  a  series  of  articles  in  Hearst's  San 
Francisco  Call  under  the  provocative  title,  "The  Valley  of  Broken 
Hearts."  Written  by  a  former  Owens  Valley  newspaperman  and 
a  brother-in-law  of  the  Wattersons,  the  articles  reported  the 
aqueduct  controversy  to  all  of  California  for  the  first  time.  They 
spoke  in  particular  of  the  reversion  of  unwatered  valley  lands  to 
desert,  and  of  the  city's  "relentless"  land-buying  methods.  In  many 
instances,  it  was  said,  "men  and  women  have  blotted  their  sig- 
natures with  tears."  The  city  now  had  the  choice,  concluded 
the  articles,  of  building  its  Long  Valley  Dam  and  guaranteeing 
water  to  the  Bishop  users,  or  proceeding  to  buy  out  the  entire 
valley.  Of  the  two,  the  people  now  favored  an  $8,000,000  sale 
instead  of  the  dam  as  an  end  to  the  "weary  problem." 

The  Call  series  was  effective  enough  in  stating  the  valley's 
case;  what  followed  gave  it  an  emphasis  that  could  not  be  over- 
looked. On  May  10  the  city  filed  suit  against  the  remaining  valley 
canals  for  recovery  of  McNally  and  Big  Pine  water  which  they 
were  "wrongfully  diverting."  The  move  was  taken  as  final  legal 
action  to  underline  the  city's  water  priority  in  its  McNally 
filings,  the  oldest  on  the  river.  Though  the  suit  was  to  be  expected 
in  consequence  of  the  valley's  diversion  of  all  the  river  water,  it 
nevertheless  threw  the  people  into  renewed  anger. 

Whether  in  retaliation  against  this  new  threat  or  as  part  of 
a  deliberate  scheme,  a  body  of  about  forty  men  met  south  of 
Bishop  on  the  evening  of  May  20,  1924,  with  three  boxes  of 
dynamite  taken  from  the  Watterson  powder  house  at  the  railroad 
station.  Someone  later  complained  that  there  were  so  many  eager 
volunteers  in  the  plot  that  they  hindered  its  efficiency. 

In  a  caravan  of  eleven  cars  they  filed  down  the  valley  highway 
and  passed  through  Independence  with  lights  extinguished  and 
license  plates  removed,  while  the  town's  population  stood  gaping. 
A  few  miles  north  of  the  town  of  Lone  Pine  they  pulled  off  the 


road  alongside  the  Alabama  Hills  and  began  their  work.  Part  of 
the  crew  was  detailed  to  watch  for  signs  of  aqueduct  patrolmen; 
another  group  set  about  disrupting  nearby  telephone  lines.  Three 
carloads  of  men  drove  to  a  covered  spillway  gate  in  the  open- 
ditch  portion  of  the  Los  Angeles  Aqueduct.  There  they  placed  the 
dynamite  against  the  cement  gate  and  attached  fifty  feet  of 

Shortly  after  I  A.M.,  Lone  Pine  was  awakened  as  if  by  an 
earthquake.  At  the  place  of  explosion  great  blocks  of  concrete 
were  thrown  high  in  the  air,  cutting  telephone  and  power  lines, 
and  landing  as  far  as  a  quarter  of  a  mile  away.  The  spillway 
gates  themselves  were  tossed  fifty  feet  up  the  mountainside.  Forty 
feet  of  the  concrete  ditch  was  blasted  away,  but  a  great  shower  of 
rocks  and  debris  fell  back  into  the  hole  and  prevented  more  than 
five  or  six  second-feet  of  water  from  escaping. 

The  dynamiters,  scarcely  anxious  to  review  their  work,  were 
already  scattering  over  the  byroads  near  Independence  to  find 
their  way  back  to  Bishop  later.  Within  an  hour  the  entire  lower 
valley  was  alive  with  activity.  City  employees  discovered  the 
break  and  began  piling  up  dirt-filled  gunny  sacks  to  stop  the  loss 
of  the  precious  water.  Sheriff  Charles  Collins  and  District 
Attorney  Jess  Hession  arrived  promptly,  followed  by  their 
deputies  and  investigators. 

In  Los  Angeles,  Mulholland  and  the  water  board  went  before 
the  City  Council  that  morning  with  the  news,  and  $10,000  re- 
ward was  quickly  offered  for  the  authors  of  the  "dastardly"  crime. 
Squads  of  deputy  sheriffs,  city  police,  and  detectives  rattled 
northward  in  open  cars  and  were  on  the  scene  by  early  afternoon 
in  search  of  clues.  Close  behind  them  was  the  city's  newspaper 
contingent.  The  Times  sent  a  photographer  in  an  Army  plane 
from  Clover  Field  to  circle  the  area  and  wing  southward  again 
with  the  first  shots  of  the  break. 

The  carload  of  reporters  arriving  in  the  valley  found  its 
citizens  grimly  sympathetic  with  the  dynamiters,  but  sternly  silent 
to  any  queries  about  their  identity.  The  first  excitement  had 
passed  when  most  of  the  city  newsmen  gathered  on  the  steps  of 
the  Dow  Hotel  in  Lone  Pine  to  discuss  the  occurrence  with 
editor  Harry  Glasscock  of  Bishop.  One  young  reporter  from  the 
Los  Angeles  Herald  arrived  full  of  questions  about  the  names  of 


the  dynamiters  and  how  they  had  planned  the  blow.  Though  his 
indiscretion  met  with  icy  silence  from  the  bystanders,  he  continued 
to  press  eagerly  for  answers.  At  length  the  exasperated  Harry 
Glasscock  accosted  him  and  demanded  that  he  head  back  for 
Los  Angeles. 

"If  you  don't  leave/'  he  warned  when  the  man  hesitated,  "I'll 
shoot  you!" 

At  the  time  Harry  wore  a  revolver  in  a  side  Holster,  and  the 
young  reporter  did  not  dally  in  his  departure.  Glasscock  returned 
to  his  conversation  and  the  other  pressmen  made  a  mental  note 
of  proper  valley  etiquette. 

The  hostility  displayed  by  the  Bishop  editor,  in  fact,  was  no 
stronger  than  sentiment  throughout  Owens  Valley.  In  the  streets 
of  Bishop  the  blowup  was  the  universal  topic.  Many  observed 
that  it  was  done  to  warn  the  city  and  "protect  our  homes."  E.  F. 
Leahey,  the  city's  representative  in  Owens  Valley,  received  word 
to  stay  out  of  Bishop — a  warning  which  he  promptly  disregarded 
without  harm.  When  other  city  investigators  came  to  Bishop  as  the 
most  likely  source  of  the  trouble,  the  citizens  held  a  closed  meet- 
ing, discussed  a  proposal  to  run  them  out  of  town,  and  finally 
voted  it  down  as  too  extreme.  Glasscock's  Owens  Valley  Herald 
openly  called  the  dynamiting  "merely  the  protest  of  an  outraged 

"There  is  a  limit,"  he  declared,  "to  what  a  law-abiding  people 
can  stand." 

Feeling  was  further  inflamed  when  Mulholland,  outraged  at 
this  attack  on  the  water  source  for  which  he  felt  such  a  re- 
sponsibility, made  public  statements  against  Owens  Valley 
ranchers.  Word  came  immediately  for  him  to  stay  out  of  Bishop 
to  avoid  being  lynched. 

"They  wouldn't  have  the  nerve,"  the  old  man  growled  de- 
fiantly. "I'd  just  as  soon  walk  the  whole  length  of  Owens  Valley 

He  afterward  traveled  through  the  valley,  including  Bishop, 
whenever  occasion  required.  But  a  cousin,  who  was  stopping  at 
an  Independence  hotel,  discreetly  registered  himself  under  an 
alias  rather  than  sign  the  name  "Mulholland." 

If  the  men  who  dynamited  the  aqueduct  intended  it,  as  was 
claimed,  as  a  warning  to  the  city  to  "speed  up  action,"  they  were 

wholly  successful.  Within  five  days  the  valley  was  invited  to  send 
a  delegation  to  discuss  the  water  situation  with  the  Los  Angeles 
Chamber  of  Commerce.  In  a  matter  of  hours  W.  W.  Watterson, 
Karl  Keough,  and  four  other  representatives  headed  southward 
to  confer  with  the  Chamber's  committee.  Later  the  Los  Angeles 
group  returned  the  visit  and  inspected  Owens  Valley  at  first  hand. 
They  went  back  to  the  city  filled  with  valley  sentiment  and  turned 
in  a  report  calling  on  the  water  board  to  buy  the  remaining 
property  at  prices  fixed  by  a  board  of  arbitrators — a  proposal 
which  Watterson  had  assured  them  would  be  satisfactory.  The 
valley's  indignation  was  not  relieved  when  the  Chamber  report 
was  withheld  from  the  public  because,  as  the  water  board  later 
explained,  the  committee's  investigation  "consisted  almost  en- 
tirely of  interviewing  Mr.  W.  W.  Watterson  and  his  associates." 

A  few  days  later  the  upper  valley  played  host  to  the  editorial 
staff  of  the  Los  Angeles  Record,  a  Scripps-Howard  newspaper 
specializing  in  exposes.  When  the  newsmen  departed  Wilfred 
Watterson  had  gained  a  permanent  ally  in  Los  Angeles.  On  June 
24  the  Record  startled  its  readers  with  the  headline,  "City's 
Water  Supply  in  Danger,"  and  the  warning,  "Blood  may  color 
the  aqueduct  water  and  a  real  explosion  choke  this  city  with 
thirst."  In  a  series  of  front-page  articles  it  described  the  valley's 
plight,  emphasized  the  bitter  feeling  of  its  citizens,  and  proposed 
that  the  city  buy  valley  land  with  prices  fixed  by  a  disinterested 

Next  came  a  three-man  engineering  board  headed  by  no  less 
a  valley  acquaintance  than  J.  B.  Lippincott.  Its  purpose  was  to 
examine  the  water  resources  of  Owens  River  and  report  to 
the  water  commissioners  on  possible  methods  of  dividing  it  be- 
tween city  and  valley.  In  an  official  report  on  August  14,  1924,  the 
engineers  claimed  that  proper  water  development  would  allow 
permanent  irrigation  of  30,000  acres  in  Owens  Valley  and  still 
provide  just  enough  water  in  dry  years  for  a  full  aqueduct.  The 
revelation  was  at  the  same  time  a  blow  to  valley  hopes  for  whole- 
sale purchase  and  a  welcome  feeling  of  independence  to  the 
Board  of  Water  Commissioners. 

Armed  with  the  water  knowledge  in  the  Lippincott  report,  the 
entire  board,  accompanied  by  Mulholland,  Mathews,  Van  Nor- 
man, and  a  corps  of  stenographers  and  newspapermen,  arrived 


in  the  valley  to  confer  with  its  leaders  early  in  September.  At 
a  public  meeting  in  Bishop  W.  W.  Watterson  told  them  that  the 
only  fair  solution  was  to  buy  the  whole  district  at  a  price  which 
included  compensation  for  damages  already  done.  Before  the 
water  board  left  the  valley  its  chairman  was  ready  to  promise  that 
everything  possible  would  be  done  to  reach  a  fair  understanding. 
"There  is  no  question  but  mistakes  have  been  made,"  admitted 
one  of  the  commissioners. 

If  the  valley  men  believed  they  had  induced  the  water  board 
to  buy  their  entire  irrigation  district  they  were  promptly  dis- 
illusioned. On  October  14  the  commissioners  announced  their 
long-sought  policy  on  Owens  River  in  a  resolution  to  "keep 
30,000  acres  green."  Acting  on  the  findings  in  the  Lippincott 
report,  they  offered  to  set  aside  that  amount  of  land  free  of  city 
purchase,  and  to  do  all  in  their  power  to  develop  surface  and 
underground  water  "to  at  least  insure  a  full  supply  for  said 
irrigated  areas  and  the  aqueduct."  They  further  promised,  in 
compensation  for  loss  of  business  from  previous  land  purchases,  to 
help  build  up  the  valley  communities  by  highway  and  transporta- 
tion improvements  that  would  increase  tourist  trade. 

As  soon  as  the  text  of  the  resolutions  reached  Owens  Valley, 
Wilfred  Watterson  called  a  meeting  of  the  irrigation  district 
directors.  In  a  bitter  counterresolution  they  rejected  the  proposal 
as  "unacceptable." 

On  the  surface  its  basic  weakness  was  that  it  provided  no 
concrete  compensation  to  the  townspeople  for  their  loss  of  trade. 
But  underlying  the  disagreement  was  a  more  subtle  clash  of  pur- 
poses. At  that  time  the  Los  Angeles  officials  needed  no  more  valley 
water  than  they  had  already  bought,  and  intended  to  concede 
little  more  than  necessary  to  secure  its  free  passage  past  the 
valley  head  gates  and  into  the  aqueduct.  Valley  people,  on  the 
other  hand,  would  not  overlook  the  inroads  already  made.  Their 
weapon  was  the  water  the  city  had  purchased,  and  they  would 
neither  relinquish  it  nor  make  a  compromise  agreement  until 
Los  Angeles  bought  the  entire  irrigation  district  in  a  lump  settle- 
ment. It  was  now  they,  and  not  the  water  commissioners,  who 
desired  the  sale  of  the  upper  valley. 

The  Bishop  people  were  also  aware  of  the  city's  need  for  a 
peaceable  population  at  the  source  of  its  water  supply.  Valley 

newspapers  did  not  hesitate  to  mention  this  factor  in  their  violent 
reactions  to  the  city's  proposal. 

"The  people  here  have  shown  that  they  can  protect  their 
homes,"  cried  Harry  Glasscock  in  his  Owens  Valley  Herald,  "and 
they  will  show  it  again  if  it  becomes  necessary." 

The  Big  Pine  Citizen  added  that  if  the  people  of  Los  Angeles 
could  not  be  convinced  of  "the  seriousness  of  our  situation  here, 
we  will  be  compelled  to  use  other  means  to  try  and  save  complete 
destruction  of  our  homes  and  businesses." 

Evidently  the  decision  to  take  drastic  action  was  made  by 
valley  leaders  soon  after  the  water  board's  announcement.  When 
Van  Norman  and  Mathews  reached  Bishop  to  negotiate  the 
agreement  early  in  November,  Watterson  and  his  irrigation 
district  spokesmen  went  through  the  motions  of  a  formal  meeting, 
but  neither  accepted  nor  rejected  the  proposals.  Six  days  after 
the  city  men  left  with  negotiations  still  pending,  Owens  Valley's 
citizens  took  steps  to  pass  over  the  head  of  the  water  board  and 
bring  their  plight  to  the  forcible  attention  of  the  state  of  Cali- 

On  the  morning  of  November  16,  1924,  between  sixty  and  a 
hundred  men,  led  by  Mark  Watterson  and  Karl  Keough,  left 
Bishop  in  a  cavalcade  of  automobiles  and  paraded  southward 
through  Independence  with  drawn  shades.  A  mile  north  of  the 
spot  previously  dynamited  they  pulled  up  at  the  Alabama  Gates, 
one  of  the  main  points  provided  for  turning  floodwaters  out  of 
the  aqueduct.  Without  delay  they  climbed  up  the  hill,  took 
possession  of  the  control  house,  and  turned  the  wheels  that 
opened  the  gates  beneath.  A  flood  of  some  290  second-feet  of 
water  churned  down  the  spillway,  splashed  across  the  highway, 
and  made  its  way  over  the  valley  floor  to  the  dry  bed  of  the 
Owens  River.  Not  a  drop  continued  down  the  great  cement 
trough  of  the  Los  Angeles  Aqueduct. 

The  gatekeeper  came  running  up  to  protest,  but  he  was  simply 
ignored.  Sheriff  Charles  Collins,  who  had  seen  the  caravan  pass 
through  Independence,  arrived  soon  after  and  went  through  the 
futile  motion  of  asking  the  men  to  desist.  When  he  began  to  write 
down  a  list  of  those  present  they  crowded  about,  each  one  insist- 
ing that  he  "put  my  name  down."  He  was  told  that  the  party 
would  keep  possession  of  the  gates  "until  we  gain  our  point." 


When  news  of  the  seizure  was  conveyed  to  Ed  Leahey,  the 
city's  representative  in  the  valley,  he  disregarded  a  warning  to 
stay  away  from  the  gates.  Driving  southward  from  Bishop,  he 
stopped  at  Independence  to  demand  that  the  county  authorities 
accompany  him  to  the  scene.  When  this  was  refused  he  wheeled 
down  to  the  Alabama  Gates. 

Leaving  his  car  at  the  foot  of  the  hill,  Leahey  started  hiking 
up  the  slope  beside  the  roaring  spillway  to  the  wheelhouse  above. 
Through  one  of  its  windows  a  noose  suddenly  appeared  and 
dangled  before  his  eyes. 

Leahey  could  do  nothing  but  assume  that  the  macabre  warning 
did  not  exist.  When  he  reached  the  top  Mark  Watterson,  Keough, 
and  four  others  came  out  of  the  house. 

"You  armed?"  someone  asked. 

The  city  official  threw  open  his  coat  to  show  that  he  was  not. 
There  was  an  embarrassing  pause,  during  which  someone  asked 
if  Leahey  would  "have  some  coffee." 

"Who's  in  charge  here?"  he  asked  abruptly. 

"We're  all  in  charge,"  returned  Mark  Watterson. 

"You  can't  contend  we  have  no  right  to  this  water,"  he  told 
them.  "It's  not  hurting  anybody  going  down  the  ditch." 

"Don't  you  realize,"  Watterson  retorted,  "that,  whether  people 
are  damaged  or  think  they  are,  the  effect  is  the  same?" 

"You  can  tell  Mathews  and  Mulholland  that  we're  going  to 
stay  here  till  they  settle  with  us,"  added  someone  else. 

The  city  representative  realized  the  demonstration  was  no  sud- 
den outbreak,  but  a  calculated  effort  to  bring  Los  Angeles  to 

"If  you  try  to  close  these  gates  we'll  make  our  own  gates," 
warned  Watterson  as  Leahey  made  ready  to  leave. 

The  last  was  a  veiled  reference  to  a  cache  of  dynamite  under- 
stood to  be  hidden  in  the  hill  behind  the  gates.  Though  the  men 
displayed  no  guns,  they  were  determined  to  hold  off  any  attempt 
to  recapture  the  aqueduct. 

Leahey  immediately  phoned  Mathews  in  Los  Angeles.  Two 
carloads  of  detectives  and  investigators  were  hurriedly  dispatched 
from  the  city.  When  the  valley  people  heard  of  their  coming,  a 
band  of  embattled  settlers  gathered  in  Bishop  to  demand  arms 
from  the  Watterson  hardware  store.  Sheriff  Collins,  frantically 


trying  to  prevent  bloodshed,  rushed  southward  and  met  the  Los 
Angeles  men  below  Lone  Pine. 

"If  you  go  up  there  and  start  any  trouble,"  he  warned,  "not 
one  of  you'll  get  back  to  tell  the  tale." 

It  is  said  that  the  investigators  left  Owens  Valley  without  a 
look  at  the  Alabama  Gates. 

But  the  next  contingent  of  Los  Angeles  men  was  more  warmly 
received.  By  nightfall  a  squad  of  newsmen  arrived  to  find  the 
seizure  operation  working  efficiently.  Two  aqueduct  searchlights 
had  been  commandeered  and  now  converged  on  their  auto  as  it 
approached.  Barbed  wire  had  been  spread  at  the  base  of  the  hill, 
where  a  sentry  challenged  them  on  the  single  path  that  led  up  to 
the  gates.  But  when  Harry  Glasscock  came  down  and  vouched  for 
them  they  were  roundly  welcomed  at  the  wheelhouse  and  allowed 
to  sleep  there  through  the  night  among  the  forty  men  who 
guarded  the  gates,  while  the  aqueduct  water  continued  to  thunder 
down  the  cascade  toward  Owens  River. 

But  already  the  city  water  board  was  taking  hurried  action. 
Up  from  Los  Angeles  on  the  night  train  came  S.  B.  Robinson,  able 
assistant  to  Mathews  in  the  Water  Department's  legal  counsel. 
Ed  Leahey  met  him  with  an  auto  at  Lone  Pine,  and  while  passing 
the  spillway  the  two  were  stopped  by  a  crew  of  guardsmen,  who 
allowed  them  to  pass  after  a  few  apprehensive  moments. 

Next  morning  at  Independence,  Robinson  demanded  an  in- 
junction against  the  spillway  gang  from  Inyo's  respected  superior 
judge,  William  D.  Dehy.  A  temporary  restraining  order  was 
issued,  but  when  Sheriff  Collins  served  seventy-five  copies  of  it 
at  the  spillway  the  group  gave  him  a  polite  but  firm  refusal.  To 
his  chagrin  several  of  the  men  threw  the  documents  into  the  rush- 
ing spillway. 

"No,  Sheriff,"  said  one  of  them,  "we  won't  leave  here  until 
the  state  troops  come  in  and  put  us  out.  We  haven't  been  treated 
right  and  we're  going  to  stick  until  we  have  let  the  state  and  the 
country  know  the  facts." 

To  show  him  they  felt  no  ill  will  at  his  official  act,  several  of 
them  jokingly  picked  up  the  dignified  officer  as  he  was  leaving 
and  carried  him  in  a  sitting  position  to  his  automobile. 

With  the  injunction  ignored,  Robinson  demanded  that  Judge 
Dehy  issue  warrants  for  the  arrest  of  the  men  at  the  gates. 


The  magistrate  then  replied  by  declaring  himself  disqualified  to 
act  "by  personal  interest."  The  move  also  invalidated  the  in- 
junction he  had  issued,  and  the  men  were  left  without  any  legal 
restraint  whatever.  The  same  day  Karl  Keough  gave  emphasis  to 
the  situation  with  an  announcement  to  the  press. 

"We  are  here  to  keep  this  spillway  open.  We  will  stay  here 
until  we  are  driven  out  or  dragged  out." 

By  noon  on  the  seventeenth  more  than  twenty  women  had 
arrived  from  Bishop  and  were  serving  their  husbands  a  picnic 
lunch.  From  every  community  in  the  valley  people  were  arriv- 
ing all  day  long,  either  to  stand  by  and  view  the  scene  with 
satisfaction,  or  to  take  an  active  part  in  supporting  the  original 
contingent.  Soon  the  spillway  seizure  became  a  grand  Owens 
Valley  reunion.  Ranchers  and  businessmen  gathered  about  the 
campfires  in  cheerful  conversation  while  their  wives  brought  hot 
meals  from  homes  in  Independence.  Even  the  minister  of  the 
Bishop  Baptist  Church  was  on  "the  hill"  with  the  rest. 

"I  am  here  because  most  of  my  congregation  is  here,"  he 

In  Bishop,  where  practically  every  store  was  closed,  a  large 
sign  had  been  placed  on  the  flagpole  in  the  center  of  town:  "If 
I  am  not  on  the  job,  you  will  find  me  at  the  Aqueduct." 

On  the  eighteenth  more  than  seven  hundred  persons  were 
constant  participants  in  the  demonstration;  stoves,  tents,  and 
beds  were  erected  for  a  more  permanent  camp.  Movie  star  Tom 
Mix  and  his  company,  then  on  location  in  the  Alabama  Hills, 
visited  the  gathering  and  contributed  an  orchestra. 

Next  day  the  crowd  held  a  huge  barbecue,  supplied  with  food 
by  Bishop  butchers  and  grocerymen.  Fifty  Bishop  housewives 
each  made  a  pie  and  arrived  at  the  spillway  with  their  children 
to  officiate  at  the  picnic.  Mrs.  Harry  Glasscock  came  late  after 
running  off  the  weekly  issue  of  her  husband's  paper,  which  carried 
a  rousing  news  story  on  the  seizure.  Everyone  in  the  valley  was 
invited,  including  S.  B.  Robinson  and  the  city's  employees.  Even 
Sheriff  Collins  joined  the  throng  which  gathered  on  the  hill 
to  enjoy  Owens  Valley's  best  barbecued  beef. 

But  behind  the  carefree  atmosphere  was  an  earnestness  of 
purpose  in  their  presence  at  the  Alabama  Gates.  Late  in  the  day 
the  crowds  gathered  wearily  about  the  campfires,  the  women  sit- 


ting  beside  their  husbands,  holding  the  smaller  children.  The 
Baptist  minister  produced  his  church  hymnbooks,  and  soon  the 
heavy  strains  of  "Onward,  Christian  Soldiers"  issued  from  several 
hundred  throats  and  swept  across  the  valley.  Below  them  the 
water  continued  to  roar  down  the  spillway  for  the  fourth  con- 
secutive day.  On  the  edge  of  the  aqueduct  near  the  wheelhouse  a 
woman  was  silently  watching  the  flow  when  someone  pointed  out 
the  tiny  blades  of  grass  that  had  begun  to  sprout  along  the  edge  of 
the  stream. 

"Yes,  that  is  the  lifeblood  of  this  valley,"  she  observed  thought- 
fully, "and  if  they'd  just  let  it  circulate  the  valley  would  come 
back  to  life." 

It  was  no  coincidence  that  the  seizure  occurred  at  a  time  when 
Wilfred  Watterson  was  in  Los  Angeles  to  outline  valley  grievances 
to  the  city's  banking  organization,  the  Clearing  House  Associa- 
tion. In  a  meeting  on  November  18,  the  third  day  of  the  aqueduct 
seizure,  he  addressed  the  bankers  for  an  hour  on  the  water  dis- 
pute, recommending  the  purchase  of  the  irrigation  district 
for  "between  $12,000,000  and  $15,000,000." 

The  Clearing  House  members  then  told  Watterson  with  ill- 
concealed  anger  that  there  could  be  "no  talk  of  conference  and 
compromise"  while  he  stood  there  "defending  the  lawlessness  of 
the  Bishop  mob."  It  is  said  they  also  told  him  that  if  he  did 
not  get  the  gates  closed  they  would  shut  off  his  bank's  credit. 

At  the  same  time  the  Los  Angeles  newspapers  were  outraged 
at  what  the  Examiner  called  the  "big  card"  in  a  "gigantic  holdup 
scheme."  The  Express  accused  the  ranchers  of  "pure  vandalism" 
in  wasting  Los  Angeles  water,  and  joined  the  Examiner  in  de- 
manding that  they  be  tried  and  punished.  But  the  Record,  whose 
policy  had  favored  the  valley  for  months,  insisted  that  the 
ranchers  were  "fighting  for  their  homes  and  the  right  to  exist." 
It  was  the  Times  which  struck  a  middle  attitude: 

"These  farmers  are  not  anarchists  nor  bomb  throwers,  but  in 
the  main  honest,  hardworking  American  citizens."  Admitting  "a 
measure  of  justice  on  their  side  of  the  argument,"  the  paper  called 
for  restraint  from  the  ranchers  and  generosity  from  the  city. 
"There  must  be  no  civil  war  in  Southern  California." 

But  the  story  of  "California's  little  civil  war"  was  already  being 
headlined  across  the  nation,  covered  by  an  article  in  the  Literary 


Digest,  and  featured  in  newspapers  as  far  away  as  France  and 
Sweden.  California's  own  press,  while  deploring  a  resort  to 
force,  was  generally  supporting  the  ranchers  and  demanding  that 
Los  Angeles  submit  the  case  to  arbitration. 

Before  long  the  unfavorable  publicity  was  affecting  farm  im- 
migration into  Southern  California,  and  a  Los  Angeles  com- 
mercial group  sent  circulars  to  750  California  editors  asking  them 
to  call  off  the  attack.  That  this  pro-valley  campaign  may  not  have 
been  spontaneous  in  every  case  is  suggested  by  the  claim  of  the 
Wattersons  a  few  months  later  that  "we  have  spent  in  actual 
cash  for  publicity  and  otherwise  over  $30,000"  in  the  fight  against 
Los  Angeles. 

But  the  city  water  board  would  not  be  high-pressured  into 
a  change  of  policy  as  long  as  its  water  supply  remained  in  hostile 
hands.  Haiwee  Reservoir  was  already  low  from  another  year  of 
drought,  and  a  prolonged  loss  of  water  would  eventually  be  felt 
in  the  city  itself.  To  lawyer  Mathews  the  board  gave  the 
peremptory  order  to  "get  the  aqueduct  back  in  the  possession  of 
Los  Angeles.  .  .  ." 

The  Los  Angeles  county  sheriff  was  then  prevailed  upon  to 
get  in  touch  with  the  sheriffs  of  Kern  and  Ventura  counties  and 
assure  their  help  if  needed  in  the  crisis.  To  the  harassed  Sheriff 
Collins  of  Inyo  County  came  a  wire  describing  the  force  available 
in  Southern  California  to  aid  in  dispersing  the  mob. 

Collins  was  too  busy  to  answer  the  offer.  For  three  days  he  had 
been  carrying  on  a  frantic  correspondence  by  wire  with  Governor 
Friend  W.  Richardson  to  secure  the  state  militia  which  the 
spillway  mob  seemed  to  desire. 

"Confident  party  will  disperse  and  bloodshed  be  averted,"  he 
telegraphed,  "only  by  arrival  of  state  troops." 

"You  have  abundant  power  to  control  situation,"  answered 
the  governor.  "Do  your  duty  bravely  and  in  the  end  you  will 
receive  commendation." 

Collins  wanted  troops,  not  commendation.  He  repeated  his 
request  in  a  second  telegram:  "Please  send  them  forthwith." 

"I  hope  you  will  do  your  duty  fearlessly,"  returned  Governor 
Richardson.  "People  elect  sheriffs  to  stand  up  and  prove  their 

That  kind  of  courage,  Collins  knew,  would  not  withstand  the 

next  valley  election.  Inyo's  District  Attorney  Hession  then  stepped 
into  the  dispute;  after  being  driven  at  top  speed  to  Mojave, 
he  caught  a  train  for  Sacramento  and  appealed  to  the  governor 
personally  for  a  corps  of  militia.  But  Richardson  had  already  sent 
a  special  investigator,  and  considered  that  action  sufficient.  This 
one  element  in  the  well-laid  plans  of  the  aqueduct  seizers  was  a 
significant  failure;  a  coolheaded  governor  would  not  give  their 
act  the  publicity  value  of  a  dispersal  by  state  militia. 

But  on  the  night  of  the  nineteenth  word  from  another  quarter 
made  a  heavy  impression  on  the  spillway  people.  Wilfred  Watter- 
son  had  sent  a  telegram  from  Los  Angeles  to  his  brother  at  the 
Alabama  Gates: 

"If  the  object  of  the  crowd  at  the  spillway  is  to  bring  their 
wrongs  to  the  attention  of  the  citizens  of  Los  Angeles,  then  they 
have  done  so  100  per  cent.  ...  I  have  the  assurance  that  strong 
influence  here  will  be  brought  to  bear  on  the  situation  to  see  that 
justice  is  done." 

Shortly  afterward  Watterson  himself  arrived  in  the  valley  and 
met  with  a  twelve-man  delegation  from  the  spillway  at  his  soda 
works  at  Keeler  on  Owens  Lake.  There  he  explained  that  the 
Los  Angeles  Clearing  House  Association  had  finally  agreed  to  use 
its  "best  efforts  with  the  business  interests  of  this  city  to  bring 
about  an  equitable  settlement"  if  the  ranchers  would  give  up  the 

The  group  then  returned  to  the  spillway  and  early  on  the 
morning  of  the  twentieth  turned  the  great  wheels  in  the  control 
house  that  lowered  the  Alabama  Gates.  The  four-day  stream  that 
had  flowed  across  Owens  Valley  to  the  river  was  made  dry,  and 
once  more  the  full  flow  of  the  aqueduct  went  hurtling  on  its  way 
down  the  cement  ditch  to  Haiwee  Reservoir. 

Early  in  the  day  people  began  arriving  from  both  ends  of  the 
valley  for  a  final  barbecue  to  celebrate  the  end  of  the  long  vigil. 
Some  fifteen  hundred  persons  assembled  on  the  hill,  joined  in 
community  songs,  and  listened  with  moistened  eyes  to  encourag- 
ing speeches  from  W.  W.  Watterson  and  others.  Before  sundown 
the  crowd  broke  camp  and  left  the  historic  Alabama  Gates,  which 
stand  today  to  the  left  of  the  highway  four  miles  north  of  Lone 

To  District  Attorney  Jess  Hession  at  Sacramento,  tired  Sheriff 

Collins  dispatched  a  wire  urging  that  the  governor  be  asked  to 
see  that  the  Los  Angeles  banking  group  carry  out  its  intentions: 
"The  farmers  assert  that  the  city  officials  never  have  kept  a 
single  promise  and  if  the  Clearing  House  fails  to  keep  faith  I  look 
for  hell  to  pop!" 

Nine  days  after  the  gate  closure  W.  W.  Watterson  submitted  to  the 
Clearing  House  Association  a  written  statement  of  valley  griev- 
ances and  three  alternate  proposals  for  settlement:  i .  Keep  30,000 
acres  green,  but  give  damaged  property  owners  $5,300,000  in  "rep- 
arations." 2.  Buy  the  entire  irrigation  district  for  $12,000,000, 
including  reparations.  3.  Buy  the  district  at  a  price  set  by  a  disin- 
terested board  of  arbitration. 

The  Water  Department  then  submitted  its  own  version  of  the 
Owens  Valley  controversy  to  the  association,  answering  Watter- 
son's  charges  paragraph  by  paragraph.  As  for  the  main  grievance 
against  land  purchases,  it  was  pointed  out  that  top  prices  were 
paid  to  valley  owners  without  condemnation  or  compulsion:  "If 
the  city  did  wrong  in  buying,  they  did  wrong  in  selling."  But 
against  the  claim  that  the  shrinking  population  had  damaged  the 
trade  of  the  townspeople,  the  city  had  little  reasonable  defense. 
Its  only  argument  against  reparations  was  a  cold  statement  of 
non-responsibility : 

"Such  losses,  while  very  regrettable,  are  among  the  hazards 
which  all  must  take  in  buying  property  or  establishing  a  business, 
and  cannot  be  the  basis  of  a  legal  claim  for  compensation." 

This  aloof  attitude  over  the  plight  of  the  valley  townspeople 
was  probably  the  most  ill-considered  decision  of  the  water  board. 
Its  members  seemed  to  believe  that  because  the  city  could  not 
legally  be  made  to  pay  reparations  it  was  justified  in  disclaim- 
ing any  interest  in  the  valley  whose  life  it  had  affected  root  and 

Undoubtedly  the  idea  was  born  of  a  distrust  of  the  Watterson 
brothers  and  a  feeling  that  the  issue  was  a  battle  of  wits  between 
them  and  the  water  board.  Reluctance  to  concede  to  these  arch- 
enemies made  the  city  officials  unreceptive  to  the  idea  of  any 
compensation.  Though  the  Watterson  reparations  figure  of 
$5,300,000  was  certainly  too  high,  the  Los  Angeles  men  appar- 
ently made  no  effort  to  negotiate  an  equitable  settlement. 


Either  because  of  the  arguments  of  the  water  board  or  a  fall- 
ing out  which  developed  between  Watterson  and  the  chairman 
of  the  Clearing  House  Association,  that  body  soon  abandoned 
its  efforts  for  a  solution.  The  bitter  assumption  in  the  valley  was 
that  its  promise  to  arbitrate  had  been  given  only  to  gain  back 
the  aqueduct. 

There  remained  as  an  opportunity  for  settlement  the  efforts  of 
the  governor's  special  agent,  State  Engineer  Wilbur  F.  McClure, 
who  reached  the  valley  on  the  last  day  of  the  spillway  seizure.  As 
McClure  had  been  a  Methodist  minister  in  Owens  Valley  in  the 
early  igoos,  his  appointment  as  state  investigator  in  the  water 
crisis  was  not  considered  unfortunate  by  its  citizens.  After  a 
month  of  investigation  and  a  meeting  with  the  Los  Angeles  water 
board,  he  sent  a  hundred-page  report  to  Sacramento  completely 
endorsing  the  ranchers'  stand. 

"The  valley  does  not  desire  to  be  big-brothered,"  he  summa- 
rized, "but  go  its  own  way,  and  insists  that  if  the  parental  idea 
plan  is  to  be  insisted  upon,  the  would-be  big  brother  should  be 
willing  to  pay  well  for  the  privilege  of  exercising  such  domina- 

But  aside  from  its  publicity  value  McClure's  report  had  little 
concrete  effect.  Governor  Richardson  must  have  believed  the  crisis 
was  over  with  the  closing  of  the  Alabama  Gates.  So,  apparently, 
did  the  Los  Angeles  water  board,  whose  chairman  is  said  to  have 
exclaimed  on  hearing  of  the  gate  closure,  "The  publicity  stunt 
has  failed!" 

Even  W.  W.  Watterson,  realizing  that  in  the  spillway  seizure 
Owens  Valley  had  reached  a  high  tide  of  unity,  afterward  chas- 
tised himself  for  closing  the  gates  prematurely.  Never  again  would 
they  have  the  city  at  the  same  disadvantage. 

6:     "We  Who  Are  About  to  Die9' 

The  efforts  toward  negotiation  after  the  gate  seizure  had  now 
failed.  Obviously  it  was  time,  as  Sheriff  Collins  had  feared,  for 
"hell  to  pop!"  But  before  valley  leaders  could  take  the  initiative, 


circumstances  forced  the  Water  Department  to  make  a  sudden 
and  agreeable  change  of  policy. 

Los  Angeles — and  all  of  Southern  California — was  in  the  midst 
of  its  greatest  boom.  During  the  drought  of  the  twenties  the  city 
found  itself  engulfed  with  a  flood  of  Easterners  that  doubled  its 
population  to  more  than  1,000,000.  An  oil  boom  in  Long  Beach 
and  a  motion  picture  boom  in  Hollywood  were  underwriting  the 
Southland's  prosperity.  New  luxury  hotels,  a  Coliseum,  a  giant 
city  hall  were  rising  to  make  Los  Angeles  look  the  part  of  a 
metropolis.  Great  new  suburbs  and  cities  sprang  up  as  Los  Angeles 
moved  westward  to  the  sea. 

This  was  a  time  for  the  "reward  of  approbation"  of  which 
Mulholland  had  spoken ;  it  was  a  boom  that  simply  would  never 
have  been — without  the  water  of  Owens  River.  Yet  the  dry 
years  had  revealed  a  limit  to  the  growth  allowed  by  the  aque- 
duct. Mulholland's  search  for  water  caused  him  to  turn  his  eyes 
four  hundred  miles  eastward  to  the  Colorado  River  for  long- 
range  needs.  For  the  immediate  future,  the  city  must  gain  posses- 
sion of  water  it  had  already  bought  in  the  Bishop  area  of  Owens 
Valley,  but  which  the  unrelenting  farmers  were  still  diverting 
into  their  own  ditches. 

After  visiting  Inyo  County  to  investigate  land  values,  Harvey 
Van  Norman  went  before  the  water  board  with  a  new  proposi- 

"The  only  way  to  settle  things  up  there,"  he  told  the  commis- 
sioners, "is  to  buy  out  the  rest  of  the  valley." 

"My  God!"  cried  one  of  the  members.  "How  much  will  that 

"Five  or  six  million  dollars,"  was  the  cool  answer. 

Such  a  figure  was  far  above  any  former  water  investment.  It 
meant  a  tacit  admission  of  past  mistakes  and  a  partial  concession 
to  the  proposal  of  the  Watterson  group.  But  W.  B.  Mathews 
joined  Van  Norman  in  convincing  the  board  that  such  a  move 
was  the  only  means  of  gaining  security  at  the  source  of  the  city's 
water.  Early  in  1925  the  commissioners  announced  they  were 
ready  to  buy  all  land  tributary  to  the  Owens  River,  leaving  no 
isolated  pieces. 

The  proposal  caught  the  valley  people  by  surprise.  For  the 


first  time  the  city  had  agreed  to  one  of  their  major  points  of  con- 
tention. It  meant  that  bargaining  between  valley  sellers  and  city 
buyers  would  be  conducted  on  an  equal  basis  and  not  on  city 
terms.  But  it  also  meant  that  the  ranchers  must  abandon  the 
reparations  cause  of  the  townspeople.  Theirs  had  been  made  a 
long  and  separate  struggle  by  the  water  board's  stout  refusal  to 
pay  damages. 

Wilfred  Watterson  himself  was  in  Los  Angeles  a  few  days  after 
the  board's  announcement,  offering  to  sell  the  1 2OO-acre  Watter- 
son ranch  and  twenty-two  others  under  the  Bishop  Creek  Ditch. 
Soon  a  price  of  $700,000  was  agreed  upon  and  the  transaction 
closed.  When  it  was  announced  in  Bishop  on  March  7,  1925,  val- 
ley people  were  astounded  that  the  Wattersons  were  selling  in- 
dependently of  the  powerful  irrigation  district  "pool."  Walter 
Young,  a  leading  figure  in  the  valley  group  and  a  close  friend 
of  the  Wattersons,  encountered  Wilfred  on  the  streets  of  Bishop 
and  asked  for  an  explanation. 

"Why  is  it  you're  selling  when  you're  asking  everybody  else 
to  hang  on?" 

"We  have  to  get  money  to  carry  on  the  valley,"  was  the  bank- 
er's reply. 

Young  dropped  the  matter,  but  wondered  why  the  Wattersons 
needed  money  when  mortgages  were  being  paid  off  regularly  by 
individual  ranchers  selling  to  the  city. 

Evidently  the  brothers  felt  the  tension  their  move  had  created. 
On  the  night  the  sale  was  announced,  Watterson  met  with  Karl 
Keough  and  the  owners  of  the  Owens  River  Canal — last  of  the 
big  ditches — and  after  explaining  his  position,  secured  their 
unanimous  consent  to  the  sale.  A  few  days  later  Wilfred  and 
Mark  Watterson  published  an  open  letter  in  Bishop  newspapers 
justifying  the  deal,  and  were  thus  able  to  gloss  over  their  act 
without  losing  the  valley  leadership. 

By  the  end  of  March  the  "majority"  farmers  of  Bishop  Creek 
Ditch  sold  their  lands  as  well,  and  the  entire  holding  fell  to  the 
city.  So  also  did  control  of  the  irrigation  district,  for  Los  Angeles 
gained  the  third  director  out  of  a  total  governing  board  of  five. 
But  the  main  acquisition  was  more  than  100  second-feet  of  water 
from  a  system  that  lay  below  the  head  gate  of  the  Owens  River 
Canal,  and  hence  was  safe  from  diversion  by  the  last  main  ditch 


still  holding  up  the  city's  full  use  of  its  purchased  water  rights. 

"We  anticipate  joy  in  San  Fernando  Valley,"  wrote  Harry 
Glasscock  with  sarcasm,  "when  they  hear  that  the  long-promised 
relief  is  so  much  nearer." 

Once  again  Owens  Valley  was  watching  the  spectacle  of 
migrating  families,  vacant  farmhouses,  and  neglected  fields. 
Many  of  the  Bishop  Creekers  moved  across  the  Sierras  to  San 
Joaquin  Valley,  answering  advertisements  placed  in  Inyo  news- 
papers by  eager  Central  Valley  real  estate  men.  A  majority  of  the 
sellers  stayed  in  the  valley  because  of  the  city's  policy  of  leasing 
back  land  minus  the  water  rights.  Others,  like  the  Wattersons, 
still  had  holdings  in  the  Owens  River  Canal  or  other  ditches. 
But  the  following  year  both  voting  registrations  and  school  en- 
rollment showed  that  a  quarter  of  the  Bishop  area  population 
had  left  in  the  four  years  of  city  land  purchases. 

For  the  merchants  of  Bishop  the  new  emigration  meant  another 
drop  in  business  and  another  raise  in  reparations  demands.  In 
four  years  of  city  land  buying,  several  Bishop  stores  had  lost  a 
third  of  their  trade,  while  some  of  those  dealing  in  farm  supplies 
had  suffered  worse  reverses.  Such  concerns  as  gas  stations  and 
restaurants  enjoyed  a  growing  tourist  business  from  Los  Angeles, 
but  this  offered  little  comfort  for  the  majority  of  storekeepers, 
who  depended  on  community  customers. 

By  the  spring  of  1 925  a  valley  committee  was  lobbying  at  Sacra- 
mento for  a  reparations  law  which  would  remove  the  objections 
of  Los  Angeles  officials  that  there  was  no  legal  basis  for  damage 
payments.  The  bill  was  signed  into  law  on  May  i,  making  cities 
which  took  water  out  of  its  drainage  basin  liable  for  damages 
to  business  or  property  values.  Valley  people  then  formed  a  rep- 
arations association  and  within  a  few  months  compiled  more 
than  $2,270,000  in  compensation  claims  for  presentation  to  the 
water  board. 

At  the  same  time  a  renewal  of  the  valley  struggle  was  also 
apparent  when  city  officials  turned  to  buy  the  Owens  River 
Canal.  They  found  its  owners  demanding  a  figure  considerably 
advanced  over  prices  paid  for  Bishop  Creek  lands.  The  stalemate 
might  have  remained  peaceful,  however,  if  there  had  not  been 
an  evident  attitude  among  some  of  the  farmers  that  the  city  was 
obliged  to  meet  their  figure.  Ed  Leahey,  the  city's  representative 


in  Owens  Valley,  soon  became  aware  that  the  radical  leadership 
of  the  Klan  group  was  still  in  control. 

Since  the  aqueduct  seizure  he  had  employed  a  corps  of  Pinker- 
ton  detectives  in  the  valley  to  keep  him  informed  of  extremist 
movements.  These  "gumshoes,"  as  they  were  derisively  called 
by  the  people,  conducted  a  campaign  of  eavesdropping  under 
windows,  shadowing  suspected  persons,  and  other  melodramatic 
activities  which  served  mainly  to  amuse  valley  citizens.  More 
effective  were  several  local  parties  who  were  in  touch  with  the 
radical  element  and  informed  city  men  of  its  movements. 

On  July  31,  1925,  a  woman  in  Bishop  who  had  been  reporting 
to  Los  Angeles  agents  gave  the  warning  that  a  fresh  plot  was 
being  made  to  dynamite  the  aqueduct.  A  note  was  intercepted 
between  two  elements  of  the  radical  group,  revealing  that  the 
blow  was  aimed  at  the  outlet  at  Haiwee  Reservoir.  Such  a  calam- 
ity would  disrupt  the  city's  entire  water  supply. 

Ed  Leahey  quickly  notified  the  Water  Department,  and  within 
a  matter  of  hours  several  machine  guns  from  the  Los  Angeles 
police  force  were  rushed  across  the  Mojave  Desert  to  the  crest 
of  the  Haiwee  Dam.  Right  behind  them  came  the  usual  carload 
of  newspaper  reporters  ready  for  the  fireworks.  Leahey  managed 
to  send  a  grim  note  to  the  radical  leaders  back  through  the  same 
channel  his  operators  had  interrupted: 

"It  would  be  a  terrible  situation  if  you  sent  men  with  rifles 
to  Haiwee,  because  I've  got  three  machine  guns  there." 

Evidently  the  warning  and  the  defense  were  enough  to  bring 
a  hurried  change  of  plans.  When  the  Los  Angeles  newsmen  pulled 
into  Lone  Pine  they  met  Harry  Glasscock  on  the  main  street  and 
asked  him  what  was  supposed  to  happen  at  Haiwee. 

"No,  there  isn't  anything  doing  around  there,"  Glasscock  re- 
plied cautiously.  "Besides,  they've  got  a  lot  of  guns  down  there!" 

Most  Angelenos  never  knew  how  narrowly  their  water  supply 
had  been  saved  from  serious  disruption.  "As  far  as  the  people 
here  were  concerned,"  Glasscock's  paper  said  innocently,  "they 
had  not  even  heard  of  any  trouble,  but  it  appears  that  W.  B. 
Mathews  and  others  ...  of  the  City  are  undergoing  a  case  of 
'nerves'  that  got  the  best  of  some  of  them.  .  .  ." 

For  several  months  afterward  the  valley  situation  smoldered 
while  the  reparations  committees  finished  compiling  claims  and 


the  Owens  River  Canal  ranchers  awaited  further  negotiation.  To 
reach  a  figure  that  might  be  considered  fair,  the  Water  Depart- 
ment got  an  appraisal  on  remaining  property  in  the  Bishop  area 
from  three  well-respected  Inyo  officials,  two  of  them  experienced 
tax  assessors.  Their  detailed  figures,  announced  early  in  Decem- 
ber 1925,  were  accepted  by  a  West  Bishop  "pool"  but  turned 
down  by  the  Owens  River  Canal,  or  "Keough  pool." 

The  talks  that  followed  between  the  canal  ranchers  and  two 
city  negotiators,  Ed  Leahey  and  H.  A.  Van  Norman,  were 
marked  by  rising  bitterness.  In  a  meeting  early  in  April  1926, 
with  only  $141,000  separating  the  city  offer  from  the  $2,500,000 
demanded  by  the  canal  owners,  the  tense  negotiations  suddenly 
gave  way  to  angry  quarreling.  Heated  words  passed  between  the 
Watterson  brothers  and  one  of  the  city  men,  who  threatened  that 
the  Water  Department  would  open  a  rival  bank  in  Bishop. 

In  a  moment  the  other  representative  stepped  between  them 
to  prevent  an  exchange  of  blows.  Negotiation  was  ended  and 
the  opponents  departed  with  the  ragged  edge  of  discord  exposed 
once  more. 

On  the  night  of  April  3  the  people  of  Bishop  were  awakened 
by  a  rattling  of  windows  that  announced  another  dynamiting.  A 
mile  west  of  town  on  the  former  Watterson  ranch  a  city  water 
well  had  been  "shot"  with  only  minor  damage.  A  resolve  to  do 
the  job  right  must  have  motivated  a  more  successful  blast  the 
next  night  at  another  well,  where  the  shaft  house  was  blown  into 
small  bits. 

The  attack  was  promptly  interpreted  by  the  Owens  Valley 
Herald  as  another  "notice"  to  Los  Angeles  agents.  Glasscock 
could  not  resist  adding  that  there  still  existed  the  probability  of 
"bloodshed  at  any  time  if  the  city's  officials  get  too  arrogant." 

In  the  following  weeks  the  fighting  editor  stepped  up  his  at- 
tacks to  correspond  with  the  reopening  of  hostilities.  On  April  2 1 
he  claimed  that  the  city  was  "forcing  people  from  their  homes 
with  veiled  threats  of  ruin,  left-handed  bribery,  and  in  fact  using 
every  means  possible  to  crush  them  down."  Two  days  later  the 
water  board,  exasperated  at  his  continued  attacks,  debated  for 
several  hours  whether  to  have  him  prosecuted  on  charges  of 
criminal  libel.  When  Glasscock  heard  of  it  he  stormed  down  to 
Los  Angeles  and  issued  an  open  letter  to  the  water  commission- 


ers — with  copies  to  leading  California  newspapers — challenging 
them  to  try  him  for  libel. 

"They  are  afraid  to  carry  out  their  threat  to  have  me  arrested," 
cried  Glasscock,  claiming  that  the  board  feared  the  world  would 
know  the  facts  in  Owens  Valley.  "I  defy  them!" 

Defiance  was  not  confined  to  Harry  Glasscock.  On  the  night 
of  May  1 2  another  heavy  blast  was  fired  in  the  side  of  the  aque- 
duct just  below  the  Alabama  Gates,  where  a  hole  some  ten  feet 
in  diameter  was  blown  in  the  cement  wall.  Los  Angeles  repair- 
men and  detectives  rushed  to  the  scene  and  within  twenty-four 
hours  the  wound  was  repaired.  To  the  Inyo  Register  came  a 
telegram  from  the  valley's  reparations  committee,  then  in  nego- 
tiation with  officials  in  Los  Angeles: 

"Interest  of  valley  seriously  menaced  by  acts  of  violence.  Hope 
hotheads  can  be  persuaded  to  desist." 

"These  repeated  occurrences,"  added  editor  Willie  Chalfant, 
"do  more  harm  to  the  valley  than  to  the  city." 

The  admonitions  were  apparently  effective,  for  the  dynamit- 
ings  were  suspended  for  the  rest  of  1926.  But  the  valley  repara- 
tionists  were  still  unable  to  make  headway  with  Los  Angeles 
water  officials.  In  December  they  were  told  that  any  action  by 
the  city  would  have  to  follow  a  test  case  to  determine  the  consti- 
tutionality of  the  reparations  law. 

A  suit  for  damages  should  then  have  been  brought  by  a  valley 
claimant.  The  Wattersons,  who  were  asking  about  $170,000  in 
compensation,  were  the  logical  ones  to  take  such  a  lead.  But,  like 
most  valley  men,  they  claimed  to  be  afraid  of  long-drawn  litiga- 
tion, and  continued  to  press  for  a  board  of  arbitrators.  To  such  a 
proposal  the  city  would  not  submit,  and  the  rankling  problem 
dragged  on  unsolved. 

By  early  1927  the  long  deadlock  on  both  reparations  and  the 
Keough  pool  caused  farmers  and  townsfolk  to  join  interests  once 
more.  From  the  upper  valley  came  unmistakable  signs  that  all 
forces  were  being  summoned  for  a  final  effort  to  bring  the  city 
water  commissioners  to  terms.  Throughout  March  1927  a  series 
of  rallies,  steered  by  Mark  Watterson,  Karl  Keough,  Harry 
Glasscock,  and  other  leaders,  was  held  throughout  the  valley.  At 
the  final  mass  meeting  in  Bishop  one  speaker  announced  for  the 
benefit  of  the  city's  agents  that  the  organization  now  being 


formed  was  "the  most  radical  group  the  country  had  ever  had." 

Feeling  ran  so  high  that  a  few  days  later  on  the  main  street  of 
Big  Pine  a  city  employee  called  the  speaker  to  account  for  his 
remarks  and  precipitated  a  two-man  battle.  It  was  said  that  the 
"radical"  was  leading  on  points  at  first,  but  that  the  city  man 
was  holding  him  by  the  hair  and  pounding  his  head  when  the 
local  deputy  sheriff  separated  them. 

By  the  time  the  formation  of  the  new  "Owens  Valley  Property 
Owners  Protective  Association"  was  announced  it  was  plain  that 
a  headlong  offensive  was  looming  against  Los  Angeles.  Calling 
the  movement  "The  Last  Stand"  of  the  valley,  Harry  Glasscock's 
paper  warned  that  "what  it  has  in  store"  for  the  city's  represent- 
atives "is  yet  to  be  seen.  .  .  .  This  is  the  last  fight  that  will  ever 
be  made  by  the  people  of  Owens  Valley,"  he  announced  dramati- 

On  March  19,  1927,  the  opening  publicity  shot  of  the  cam- 
paign was  fired  with  all  of  California  as  a  target.  Full-page  adver- 
tisements had  been  placed  in  leading  newspapers  throughout  the 
state,  describing  the  valley's  struggle  under  the  provocative  head- 
ing, "We  Who  Are  About  to  Die." 

The  real  direction  of  the  drive  became  apparent  when  the 
editor  of  the  Sacramento  Union  was  welcomed  to  Inyo  County 
for  a  personal  investigation  late  in  March.  After  conferring  with 
local  men  and  viewing  some  of  the  farm  communities  affected  by 
city  purchase,  he  returned  to  write  a  series  of  articles  against  Los 
Angeles  that  made  impressive  reading  for  legislators  at  the  state 
capital.  They  were  printed  in  pamphlet  form  by  the  valley's 
Protective  Association  and  mailed  by  the  thousands  to  citizens 
throughout  California. 

Action  had,  in  fact,  already  opened  in  the  legislature.  A  reso- 
lution had  been  introduced  in  the  Assembly,  condemning  Los 
Angeles  for  its  policy  and  demanding  that  the  city  restore  the 
valley  or  buy  it  all.  In  mid-April  a  committee  of  assemblymen 
visited  Inyo  County  to  inspect  conditions  at  first  hand.  After 
being  shown  through  the  valley  by  a  Bishop  delegation,  they  re- 
turned with  a  scorching  report  of  local  conditions.  On  April  19 
several  members  of  the  Water  Department,  having  requested  a 
hearing  of  their  own  case,  were  questioned  in  Sacramento  by  the 
Assembly  committee.  W.  W.  Watterson  was  also  present  with  a 


delegation  to  emphasize  the  valley  viewpoint,  and  the  session 
waxed  hot  with  charges  and  countercharges. 

W.  B.  Mathews,  ordinarily  a  model  of  self-possession,  grew  so 
exasperated  under  cross-questioning  that  he  made  a  defiant  but 
ill-considered  admission :  Los  Angeles  would  get  water  any  place 
it  was  available,  he  said,  even  in  San  Joaquin  Valley. 

Next  morning  the  Los  Angeles  group  broke  off  its  sessions  with 
the  committee,  which  then  secured  passage  of  the  Assembly  reso- 
lution condemning  the  city's  course  in  Owens  Valley  as  "against 
the  best  interests  of  the  state  of  California."  The  bill  was  killed 
in  a  Senate  committee,  but  the  valley  delegation  was  able  to 
return  with  its  quest  for  publicity  satisfied.  Newspapers  up  and 
down  the  state  had  not  failed  to  catch  the  story  of  the  Assembly's 
condemnation.  With  the  offensive  succeeding  according  to  plan, 
Mark  Watterson  was  voicing  optimism  by  early  April. 

"I  feel  we  have  the  city  on  the  defensive,"  he  wrote  to  one 
newspaperman,  "and  we  must  strike  hard  and  often  now  and  not 
give  them  time  to  recover  themselves." 

The  realization  that  they  faced  a  showdown  in  the  battle  for 
Owens  River  caused  city  officials  to  make  a  stern  decision.  The 
only  way  to  end  the  campaign  was  to  subdue  the  power  of  its 
financial  source — the  Watterson  banks.  They  looked  upon  the 
struggle,  not  as  one  between  city  and  valley,  but  between  them- 
selves, as  public  servants  responsible  for  a  city's  water  supply,  and 
a  group  of  opportunists  entrenched  at  the  source  of  that  water. 

Ed  Leahey  first  went  to  officers  of  the  Bank  of  America  and 
asked  if  they  could  be  interested  in  an  Owens  Valley  branch. 
When  they  assented  he  suggested  further  that  the  Wattersons 
should  first  be  approached  for  an  outright  sale,  "just  so  they 
won't  say  we're  freezing  'em  out."  Leahey  then  opened  negotia- 
tions with  the  Bishop  bankers  through  a  third  party,  who  would 
not  reveal  the  identity  of  his  clients.  He  found  the  brothers  in  an 
awkward  position.  They  wanted  to  sell  out  but  were  reluctant 
to  disclose  the  chaotic  condition  of  their  Inyo  County  Bank. 

At  length  the  negotiator  reported  to  Leahey  and  asked  if  he 
would  also  take  the  Watterson  business  enterprises  and  $700,000 
in  notes.  The  city  official  then  learned  that  the  brothers  had 
siphoned  bank  money  into  their  private  concerns — the  National 
Soda  Works  at  Keeler,  the  tungsten  mine  on  Mount  Tom,  and 

other  enterprises — without  accounting  for  its  transfer.  Immedi- 
ately he  pressed  the  negotiations  further  in  an  attempt  to  get  a 
commitment  from  the  bankers.  The  moment  they  agreed  to  sell, 
as  Leahey  put  it,  "they'll  be  saying  'good  morning5  to  the  judge." 

The  Wattersons  soon  ended  the  discussions,  possibly  with  the 
suspicion  that  the  city  was  involved.  But  Leahey  was  now  aware 
of  their  weakness.  He  conferred  with  Bank  of  America  men  once 
more,  and  steps  were  taken  to  get  a  state  charter  for  a  branch  in 
Owens  Valley.  It  was  agreed  that  application  should  be  made 
by  a  substantial  group  of  valley  men,  who  would  be  able  to  ex- 
plain the  local  situation  to  the  banking  commissioner  and  to  jus- 
tify a  new  financial  house  in  Inyo  County. 

Ready  to  join  the  venture  were  five  valley  men  antagonistic  to 
the  Wattersons,  including  their  uncle,  George  Watterson.  Late 
in  March  1927  they  journeyed  to  Sacramento  and  laid  their  ap- 
plication before  the  California  banking  commissioner,  Will  C. 

But  W.  W.  Watterson  and  several  valley  supporters  appeared 
at  the  hearing  in  full  force,  stoutly  denying  charges  against  the 
financial  integrity  of  the  existing  banks.  Commissioner  Woods 
tentatively  refused  to  grant  the  charter. 

Watterson  returned  to  Inyo  with  a  temporary  victory  but  with 
the  shadow  of  a  rival  bank  still  threatening  his  financial  control. 
Evidently  he  determined  that  this  challenge  would  have  to  be 
met  with  severe  action. 

One  of  the  five  bank  charter  applicants  was  George  Warren, 
the  Big  Pine  rancher  who  had  clashed  more  than  once  with  the 
Bishop  group.  Early  in  April  word  passed  through  the  valley 
that  the  Protective  Association  intended  to  wait  upon  Warren 
and  demand  his  departure.  At  least  one  of  the  members  was 
notified  by  W.  W.  Watterson  himself.  On  the  morning  of  April 
12  Walter  Young,  a  close  friend  of  the  Watterson  brothers,  was 
stopped  by  Wilfred  at  the  door  of  the  Inyo  County  Bank. 

"A  bunch  of  the  boys  are  going  down  and  run  George  Warren 
out  of  the  country,"  he  confided,  and  asked  if  Young  would  join 

The  rancher  wanted  to  know  if  the  banker  himself  would  be 

"No,"  answered  Watterson,  "it  wouldn't  do  for  me  to  go." 


Walter  Young  agreed  that  he  would  "be  there";  later  that 
morning  at  a  hill  two  miles  below  Bishop  he  joined  a  group  of 
forty  men,  including  Harry  Glasscock,  Karl  Keough,  and  repre- 
sentatives from  every  community  in  the  valley.  There  was  no 
mention  of  Warren's  connection  with  the  bank  application,  but 
it  was  said  that  he  was  "interfering  with  plans  for  a  settlement 
with  the  city"  and  must  be  made  to  leave  the  valley. 

Two  men  acquainted  with  Warren  were  sent  to  bring  him 
from  his  house  just  north  of  Big  Pine.  There  the  stolid  ranchman 
refused  to  go  with  them,  but  agreed  to  receive  a  seven-man  com- 
mittee at  his  home.  Early  in  the  afternoon  the  specified  group 
reached  Warren's  place  and  was  invited  into  the  house.  From 
his  back  yard  a  spokesman  for  the  delegation  grumbled  that  they 
could  say  everything  right  there. 

"Since  you  refused  to  meet  with  us  all,"  he  was  told,  "your 
orders  are  to  get  out  of  the  county  inside  of  forty-eight  hours." 

Warren  then  asked  what  he  had  done  but  was  given  no  expla- 
nation beyond  that  of  "interfering  with  reparations  plans."  As  the 
rancher  began  to  argue  his  position  the  men  turned  to  leave. 

"Am  I  to  understand,"  he  called,  "that  I  have  to  either  get 
out  of  the  county  inside  of  forty-eight  hours  or  prepare  to  defend 

There  was  no  answer;  the  man's  defiant  spirit  flared. 

"If  you've  just  come  to  tell  me  to  leave  without  saying  why," 
Warren  shouted,  "you  can  go  back  and  tell  your  bunch  to  go 
plumb  to  hell — I'm  not  going  anywhere!" 

The  declaration  was  provocative  enough,  but  the  men  stalked 
out  to  their  car  and  allowed  their  ultimatum  to  stand.  Late  in 
the  afternoon  of  the  fourteenth,  after  Warren's  allotted  time  had 
expired,  a  string  of  cars  left  Bishop  and  paraded  down  the  high- 
way along  the  Sierra  foothills.  Just  north  of  Big  Pine  they  drew 
up  at  George  Warren's  house,  intent  on  making  good  their  threat. 

But  from  Warren's  garage,  from  the  rocky  hill  above  his  ranch 
house,  more  than  twenty  Big  Piners  looked  out  upon  the  inter- 
lopers with  poised  rifles.  Inside  the  house  Warren  was  trying  to 
comfort  his  plucky  wife,  but  at  the  same  time  stood  ready  to 
defend  his  position. 

The  Bishop  men  surveyed  the  scene  but  made  no  hostile  move. 
Conferences  were  held  behind  the  cars,  and  at  length  they 


wheeled  about  and  headed  northward.  Warren  and  his  friends 
watched  them  go  in  jubilation. 

Next  night,  and  for  several  thereafter,  a  string  of  headlights 
moving  south  from  Bishop  warned  the  defenders  of  another  visit. 
But  each  time  the  mob's  determination  was  frustrated  by  the 
commanding  position  of  those  rifle  barrels. 

Los  Angeles  newspapers  picked  up  the  story  when  the  siege  was 
several  days  old.  Quickly  the  news  of  this  latest  outbreak  of  law- 
lessness reached  the  state  legislature  in  Sacramento,  where 
friends  of  the  valley  were  trying  to  press  through  the  resolution 
condemning  Los  Angeles.  From  their  chief  exponent  in  the  As- 
sembly came  a  hurried  telegram  to  officers  of  the  Valley  Pro- 
tective Association: 

"Absolutely  demand  any  semblance  of  disorder  in  Owens  Val- 
ley stop.  This  legislature  should  not  be  embarrassed.  I  am  working 
hard  for  favorable  settlement  and  insist  drastic  actions  hinder 
your  cause." 

After  that  the  night  visitations  ceased.  Violent  threats  were 
still  heard  through  the  upper  valley,  for  the  group  could  not 
reconcile  itself  to  an  embarrassing  defiance  of  orders.  But  the 
siege  at  last  was  lifted  and  a  "Battle  of  Big  Pine"  averted.  War- 
ren's guards  were  reduced  to  a  skeleton  force;  the  rancher  had 
made  good  his  promise  that  he  was  "not  going  anywhere." 

But  already  the  rush  of  events  was  making  the  Big  Pine  affair 
merely  a  preliminary  skirmish  in  a  full-scale  conflict.  In  March 
the  Los  Angeles  Water  Department  had  suddenly  decided  to  set 
a  deadline  for  land  purchases.  Ed  Leahey  knew  the  continuing 
negotiations  with  Owens  River  Canal  was  all  that  had  preserved 
peace  in  the  valley. 

"If  you  do  that,"  he  warned,  "they'll  start  dynamiting  again." 

But  on  March  23  advertisements  in  the  Bishop  papers  notified 
valley  residents  that  the  water  board  would  buy  all  land  offered 
at  appraisal  prices  until  May  I,  1927,  "and  not  thereafter."  The 
deadline  was  pointedly  ignored  in  Owens  Valley.  Five  days  after 
its  expiration  the  water  commissioners  announced  a  final  denial 
of  the  townspeople's  reparations  claims.  Valley  wrath  was  now 

Early  in  May  the  ominous  signs  of  violence  were  no  longer 
concealed.  Lack  of  punishment  for  previous  assaults,  and  a  sort 


of  frontier  bravado  which  still  prevailed  among  many  men  in  this 
mountainbound  valley,  brought  the  return  of  lawlessness.  Glass- 
cock's  Owens  Valley  Herald  solemnly  declared  that  the  aqueduct 
"would  run  red  with  human  blood  before  this  trouble  was  set- 
tled." Later  testimony  and  recollections  have  indicated  that  the 
Watterson  bankers  were  able  to  use  their  financial  influence  in 
bringing  a  final  outbreak  of  dynamitings.  A  valley  citizen  named 
Perry  Sexton,  whose  testimony  may  or  may  not  be  credited,  told 
of  owing  a  note  to  the  Inyo  Bank  and  of  stating  to  Mark  Watter- 
son that  he  could  not  pay  it  until  the  city  sent  him  some  money 
he  had  claimed.  Mark  observed  that  Los  Angeles  would  never 
settle  with  him. 

"If  they  don't  pay  me,"  confided  Sexton,  "I'll  shut  the  water 
off  for  them  at  the  intake." 

"If  you  do  that,  Perry,"  answered  Watterson,  "we'll  give  you 
all  the  time  you  want  on  your  note." 

Meanwhile  night  meetings  in  the  open  fields  near  Bishop  were 
resumed  once  more.  On  May  1 1  a  valley  rancher  arrived  at  the 
Hercules  Powder  plant  at  Martinez,  California,  and  bought  eight 
cases  of  blasting  gelatin — enough  to  carry  on  a  prolonged  attack 
against  the  aqueduct.  A  final  letter  was  sent  by  the  Owens  Valley 
Protective  Association  to  Los  Angeles  officials  and  civic  organiza- 
tions, charging  that  a  continuation  of  the  water  board's  policy 
would  "inflame  real  American  citizens  to  violence,"  and  asking 
them  to  reply  whether  they  would  "take  definite  action.  Should 
the  few  remaining  property  owners  here  be  forced  to  the  break- 
ing point  we  shudder  at  the  possible  results." 

No  answer  had  been  received  in  about  two  weeks.  One  of 
Leahey's  informers  in  Bishop  tried  to  warn  him  of  an  aqueduct 
attack,  but  for  fear  of  being  caught  he  delayed  making  the  con- 
tact until  it  was  too  late. 

In  the  early  morning  darkness  of  May  27,  1927,  ten  armed 
men  drove  into  the  canyon  at  No  Name  siphon,  one  of  the  largest 
pipe  sections  on  the  aqueduct,  ten  miles  south  of  Little  Lake. 
Descending  on  the  nearby  repair  house,  they  surprised  the  two 
aqueduct  watchmen. 

"We'll  take  you  for  a  walk,"  the  leader  snapped.  "There's 
going  to  be  a  dynamiting  here." 

While  four  of  the  intruders  marched  the  guards  up  the  canyon 


out  of  blasting  range,  the  other  six  went  about  their  work  with 
deadly  efficiency.  A  string  of  explosives  was  wrapped  about  the 
great  tube  at  its  lowest  point  and  a  waterproof  explosive  con- 
tainer with  a  lighted  fuse  was  dropped  into  the  roaring  aqueduct 
stream  at  the  north  entrance  of  the  pipe. 

A  few  moments  later,  with  a  thunderous  blast,  the  entire  bot- 
tom section  of  No  Name  siphon  ripped  into  space.  The  vibrating 
canyon  was  showered  with  rocks,  steel,  and  water.  Out  of  the 
bleeding  trunk  of  the  north  pipe  the  aqueduct's  full  flow  gushed 
with  such  speed  that  the  steel  collapsed  into  the  vacuum  like  a 
punctured  tire  tube. 

The  dynamiters  had  at  last  accomplished  a  major  piece  of 
destruction  on  the  Los  Angeles  aqueduct.  Without  delay  they 
hurried  to  their  cars  and  drove  northward  while  almost  400 
second-feet  of  water  roared  into  the  Mojave  Desert. 

As  soon  as  the  alarm  was  telephoned  to  Haiwee  Dam  the  flow 
was  shut  off  with  a  total  loss  of  about  500  acre-feet.  Harvey  Van 
Norman,  stopping  at  Lone  Pine  at  the  time,  hurried  down  to  No 
Name  siphon  and  before  nightfall  on  the  following  day  had  150 
men  working  on  repairs  and  an  order  given  to  a  Los  Angeles  steel 
company  for  some  450  feet  of  new  pipe.  Up  from  Los  Angeles 
came  W.  B.  Mathews  and  William  Mulholland,  who  bitterly  re- 
plied to  press  queries  that  he  could  not  comment  on  the  dyna- 
miting "without  using  unprintable  words." 

Before  the  Water  Department  had  time  to  recover  from  the 
No  Name  "shot,"  another  blast  the  following  night  shattered  a 
6o-foot  pipe  section  leading  to  the  city's  power  plant  on  Big  Pine 
Creek.  From  the  valley  below  a  repair  crew  was  immediately  dis- 
patched. While  600  reservists  were  assembled  at  the  central  police 
station  in  Los  Angeles,  a  detachment  of  detectives  drove  north- 
ward armed  with  Winchesters  and  tommy  guns.  Their  orders 
were  to  "shoot  to  kill"  anyone  loitering  near  the  aqueduct. 

Up  and  down  the  valley  the  names  of  the  dynamiters  were 
apparently  as  well  known  as  they  were  well  guarded  by  the  popu- 
lation. Some  of  the  conspirators  made  little  effort  to  conceal  their 
participation  from  their  neighbors.  One  boasted,  "We  blew  up 
the  aqueduct  again,"  and  added  that  they  "would  continue  to 
blow  it  up  until  the  city  came  to  terms." 

After  a  week  of  silence  the  dynamiters  moved  out  once  more 


on  the  night  of  June  4.  According  to  his  later  testimony,  Perry 
Sexton  was  driven  from  Bishop  to  a  section  of  the  aqueduct  op- 
posite Owens  Lake  near  Cottonwood  Power  House,  where  he  was 
dropped  off  with  a  gunny  sack  of  blasting  gelatin.  While  a  guard 
paced  along  the  edge  above  him  he  placed  a  charge  in  a  drainage 
tunnel  under  the  conduit;  after  waiting  two  hours,  he  ignited  the 
fuse  and  stumbled  back  to  the  highway  to  be  picked  up  by  an- 
other car. 

The  explosion  shook  every  home  and  building  at  the  power 
plant.  Scarcely  had  the  dust  cloud  settled  when  a  crew  of  city 
employees  came  running  to  the  break.  At  least  a  hundred  and 
fifty  feet  of  conduit  wall  had  been  blown  apart,  and  the  water 
was  already  spilling  crazily  down  the  hillside.  Word  was  flashed 
to  the  Alabama  spillway,  and  the  gates  were  opened  to  drain  the 
ditch  and  allow  repairs. 

This  time  the  Water  Department  prepared  for  open  warfare. 
Some  fifty  sawed-off  shotguns  and  rifles,  with  ammunition,  were 
bought  for  shipment  to  valley  employees.  On  the  night  of  June  10 
a  special  Southern  Pacific  train  rattled  out  of  Los  Angeles  north- 
ward with  two  coaches  and  a  baggage  car  loaded  with  a  hundred 
armed  aqueduct  guards — mostly  World  War  I  veterans. 

Their  coming  was  signalized  the  following  night  by  another 
blast  in  the  side  of  the  aqueduct  just  below  Lone  Pine — an  act 
which  brought  new  reinforcements  hurrying  up  from  Los  An- 
geles. The  lower  valley  along  the  line  of  the  conduit  was  virtu- 
ally thrown  under  martial  law.  While  searchlights  mounted  along 
the  ditch  scanned  the  highway  at  night  for  suspicious  movements, 
the  guards  flagged  down  automobiles  and  inspected  their  occu- 
pants by  flashlight.  From  Bishop  came  the  threat  via  Glasscock's 
paper  that  "it  is  more  than  likely  that  some  real  cold  lead 
will  be  pumped  into  them  some  night  as  a  way  of  warning 
them.  .  .  ." 

Already  the  upper  valley  was  rumored  to  be  arming  for  battle. 
Nearly  sixty  Winchester  carbines  were  shipped  from  Los  Angeles 
wholesalers  to  the  Watterson  brothers'  hardware  store  in  Bishop, 
where  they  were  hurriedly  passed  across  the  counter  to  willing 
hands.  When  the  Los  Angeles  Times  called  the  Bishop  store  and 
asked  what  they  would  do  with  the  guns  a  Watterson  employee 
growled  back,  "Use  them,  of  course!" 


"There  isn't  any  particular  demand  for  rifles  at  this  season  of 
the  year,  is  there?"  pressed  the  inquirer. 

"You'd  think  so  if  you  were  up  here,"  was  the  grim  reply. 

But  actual  violence  was  still  confined  to  a  weekly  "jolt  in  the 
ribs"  of  the  aqueduct.  On  June  1 9  a  small  explosion  knocked  out 
sixteen  feet  of  conduit  about  three  miles  below  Lone  Pine  in  the 
lower  end  of  the  Alabama  Hills.  Five  evenings  later  another 
tremor  shook  the  lower  valley  and  a  squad  of  city  guards  went 
scurrying  southward,  followed  by  part  of  the  eager  population  of 
Lone  Pine.  Near  the  same  spot  the  dynamiters  had  attempted  to 
block  the  ditch  by  blasting  loose  a  giant  boulder  perched  on  the 
hillside  above;  tons  of  rock  and  dirt  were  lifted  skyward  and 
deposited  in  the  cement  conduit,  but  the  water  continued  to  flow 
onward.  One  of  the  guards  came  within  a  hundred  feet  of  being 
engulfed  by  the  avalanche.  The  boulder  itself  was  shaken  loose 
but  failed  to  reach  the  aqueduct. 

"Through  some  miscarriage  of  justice,"  as  Glasscock  boldly  de- 
scribed the  event,  "it  did  little  harm.  We  hope  the  boys  will  do 
better  next  time,  as  it  is  a  shame  to  go  to  all  the  trouble  of  setting 
off  a  lot  of  dynamite  .  .  .  and  then  have  the  work  for  nothing." 

But  the  main  purpose  of  the  dynamitings — that  of  gaining 
publicity  for  the  valley's  cause — was  succeeding  well  enough.  The 
story  of  this  all-out  battle  in  California's  water  war  was  carried 
in  newspapers  and  magazines  across  the  nation;  the  No  Name 
blast  even  made  the  front  page  of  the  Parisian  Le  Temps. 
Throughout  California,  of  course,  the  drama  was  covered  and 
editorialized  on  in  most  newspapers.  Though  they  deplored  the 
resort  to  violence,  they  generally  condemned  the  city  for  its 

The  San  Francisco  Chronicle  pointed  out  that  if  Los  Angeles 
officials  claimed  the  water  was  worth  more  in  Southern  California 
they  should  have  reimbursed  the  valley  for  its  full  value.  "The 
city  paid  only  a  small  part  of  that  and  left  the  rest  of  the  value 
of  the  Valley  to  wither  and  die."  Even  the  Los  Angeles  Times, 
agreeing  that  "the  city  has  made  mistakes,"  admitted  a  justifiable 
grievance  on  the  part  of  valley  merchants,  "who  have  seen  their 
customers,  one  after  another,  sell  out  and  move  away.  .  .  ." 

At  the  same  time  the  ranchers  themselves  were  pushing  the 
campaign  with  direct  appeals.  They  ran  a  large  advertisement 


describing  their  plight  in  the  Los  Angeles  Record,  which  was 
already  giving  their  cause  plenty  of  publicity  in  articles  and  car- 
toons on  "Old  Bill's  Aqua-Duck."  A  self-appointed  Los  Angeles 
reformer  named  Andrae  B.  Nordskog  championed  the  valley  cause 
in  lectures  before  women's  and  service  clubs,  in  talks  with  the 
mayor  and  state  officials,  and  in  the  columns  of  his  weekly  news- 
paper, the  Gridiron.  For  this  supposedly  altruistic  crusade  he  was 
to  receive  $3500  from  the  Wattersons,  of  which  $2000  was  actu- 
ally sent  him. 

By  the  end  of  June  Governor  G.  G.  Young,  armed  with  a  first- 
hand report  on  the  Owens  Valley  situation,  visited  Los  Angeles 
to  seek  out  a  settlement  of  the  water  war.  After  conferring  with 
city  officials,  he  returned  to  Sacramento  and  invited  a  delegation 
of  valley  men  to  a  meeting  there  on  July  i.  What  their  people 
should  do,  he  advised,  was  to  open  a  test  suit  in  court  to  deter- 
mine the  constitutionality  of  the  reparations  law. 

For  two  weeks  the  dynamitings  were  suspended  along  the  aque- 
duct; valley  committees  conferred  on  the  governor's  suggestion 
and  on  July  14  sent  a  reply  rejecting  it  as  one  that  "would  be  very 
welcome  to  the  Water  and  Power  Board  and  for  that  reason  is 
looked  upon  with  fear  and  distrust  by  our  people." 

Next  night  a  blast  one  mile  south  of  Lone  Pine  shook  the  town, 
broke  out  a  section  of  the  aqueduct  wall,  and  sank  a  repair  barge. 
Ninety  minutes  after  city  guards  had  rushed  down  to  the  spot, 
another  heavy  report  was  heard  four  miles  north  of  Independ- 
ence. A  well-placed  charge  had  blown  out  a  timbered  side  gate, 
opened  sixty  feet  of  the  conduit  wall,  and  released  the  full  aque- 
duct flow  until  the  main  intake  gates  were  closed  at  the  Owens 
River.  The  dynamiters  had  resumed  action  once  more  with  a 
double-barreled  charge. 

The  continued  attacks  under  the  very  noses  of  the  Los  Angeles 
guards  brought  mounting  tension  and  jittery  nerves  in  the  lower 
valley.  When  one  patrolman  saw  a  mysterious  object  floating 
down  the  stream  he  shouted  a  warning,  leaped  off  the  embank- 
ment, and  promptly  ran  into  a  barbed-wire  fence.  Cooler  exami- 
nation showed  the  thing  to  be  an  empty  kerosene  can  and  gave 
valley  citizens  a  chuckle  at  the  city's  expense. 

One  night  another  guard  had  turned  an  aqueduct  searchlight 
on  a  car  moving  along  the  highway  when  the  driver  abruptly 


stopped  and  climbed  out.  It  proved  to  be  Fred  Eaton's  son 
Harold,  traveling  from  Los  Angeles  to  his  Long  Valley  ranch. 

"Turn  off  that  light!"  he  hollered. 

The  blinding  spot  continued  to  frame  him.  Eaton  took  his 
revolver  from  the  car  and,  drawing  a  bead  on  the  searchlight, 
fired  two  shots.  He  missed  the  lamp,  but  the  light  was  promptly 
extinguished.  The  rancher  drove  on  with  the  dubious  distinction 
of  having  fired  the  only  known  shots  in  the  Owens  Valley  war. 

Through  the  early  summer  of  1927  the  outdoor  sport  of  "shoot- 
ing the  duck"  was  a  leading  occupation  and  a  main  topic  of 
conversation  in  Owens  Valley.  On  August  3,  Harry  Glasscock 
spoke  darkly  of  a  time  "when  many  will  give  up  their  lives  in 
order  to  make  their  rights  regarded,"  and  expressed  the  possi- 
bility that  "there  will  be  more  bloodshed  than  anyone  looks  for 
at  the  present  time."  Even  Willie  A.  Chalfant,  although  he  op- 
posed the  dynamitings  in  his  Inyo  Register,  declared,  "Only  vio- 
lence would  have  called  our  plight  to  the  attention  of  the  state." 

Although  lawlessness,  together  with  the  publicity  it  engen- 
dered, had  come  to  be  the  only  weapon  of  the  valley  extremists, 
it  made  their  cause  vulnerable  to  a  counterattack  from  Los 
Angeles  officials.  With  the  aqueduct  under  fire  and  the  water 
supply  threatened,  city  men  were  fighting  back  with  more  than 
armed  guards.  It  was  the  series  of  dynamitings  that  eventually 
gave  Ed  Leahey  the  advantage  he  needed  in  his  struggle  with  the 
Watterson  bankers.  Securing  a  financial  statement  of  their  outside 
business  firm,  Wattersons  Incorporated,  he  discovered  a  number 
of  unspecified  money  disbursements  to  Harry  Glasscock  and 
other  leaders  in  the  water  war.  On  August  2  he  accompanied 
W.  B.  Mathews  to  Sacramento  and  talked  with  the  state  corpora- 
tion commissioner. 

"We  have  reason  to  believe,"  Leahey  reported  solemnly,  "that 
corporate  funds  are  being  used  for  dynamiting  the  aqueduct." 

The  startled  commissioner  looked  at  them  in  amazement. 

"Would  you  repeat  that?" 

Leahey  made  the  charge  again,  and  added  details  on  the  con- 
dition of  the  Watterson  finances. 

"I  suggest  you  send  an  examiner  over  there  to  look  at  the 
situation  in  those  banks." 

That  night,  at  the  request  of  the  corporation  commissioner, 


Will  Woods  of  the  state  banking  office  put  an  investigator  on  the 
train  for  Owens  Valley.  When  he  arrived  at  the  Inyo  County 
Bank  on  August  3 — two  months  before  his  expected  visit — Wil- 
fred Watterson  had  reason  to  turn  white  with  shock. 

Giving  his  brother  Mark  orders  to  close  the  bank  next  day, 
Wilfred  left  Bishop  immediately  for  Los  Angeles.  There  he  sought 
out  the  bankers  with  whom  he  was  on  friendly  terms  and  pleaded 
for  a  substantial  loan  to  meet  his  crisis.  One  of  them  went  to  the 
water  board  and  suggested  that  at  least  $200,000  would  have  to 
be  lent  to  the  Watterson  banks.  He  found  that  such  a  proposition 
was  scarcely  welcome  in  that  quarter. 

Hoping  that  loans  might  come  from  Los  Angeles  banks  in  time 
to  save  him,  Watterson  withdrew  reserve  funds  from  personal 
safety-deposit  boxes  in  the  city  and  headed  back  for  Owens 

At  noon  of  the  fourth  the  five  Watterson  banks  in  Inyo  County 
were  closed.  At  the  doors  of  each,  groups  of  citizens  gathered  to 
read  a  curt  notice,  signed  by  the  Wattersons: 

We  find  it  necessary  to  close  our  banks  in  the  Owens  Valley.  This 
result  has  been  brought  about  by  the  past  four  years  of  destructive 
work  carried  on  by  the  city  of  Los  Angeles. 

Owens  Valley  was  stunned.  The  Watterson  brothers  had  been 
the  very  pillars  of  Inyo  County,  had  held  the  complete  confidence 
and  friendship  of  almost  every  resident.  The  closure  of  their 
banks  was  at  first  believed  to  be  only  a  temporary  difficulty, 
though  Chalfant's  Register  called  it  "the  hardest  blow  that  the 
valley  has  received  directly  or  indirectly  from  the  work  of  Los 

City  Water  Department  officials  were  furious  at  the  Watter- 
sons' attempt  to  blame  them  for  the  bank  debacle.  It  was  labeled 
as  "a  last  frantic  falsehood"  by  the  Los  Angeles  Times. 

Meanwhile  the  examiners  were  checking  the  books  and  dis- 
covering monumental  shortages.  In  the  vault  there  was  more 
than  $33,000  cash  missing.  A  superficial  perusal  of  the  books 
showed  some  $190,000  in  account  with  the  Wells  Fargo  Bank  of 
San  Francisco,  but  a  check  with  that  institution  showed  it  had 
received  none  of  the  amount. 

Mark  Watterson,  left  in  charge  of  the  bank  in  Wilfred's  ab- 


sence,  was  consumed  with  despondency.  On  the  afternoon  of  the 
fourth  he  left  Bishop  and  headed  up  Pine  Canyon,  taking  refuge 
at  the  Watterson  tungsten  mine  on  the  side  of  Mount  Tom. 
There  he  rested  alone,  trying  to  collect  his  thoughts  and  foresee 
some  future  beyond  the  calamity  that  had  overtaken  them.  But 
that  evening  when  Wilfred  returned,  he  sent  his  son  and  Walter 
Young,  Mark's  lifelong  friend,  up  to  the  mine;  they  encouraged 
him  enough  to  secure  his  return. 

On  the  same  day  Banking  Commissioner  Woods  reached 
Bishop  after  being  notified  of  the  shortages  by  his  examiners.  In 
a  meeting  at  the  Inyo  County  Bank  that  night  the  two  brothers 
were  brought  to  account  by  the  banking  officials  and  District 
Attorney  Jess  Hession.  What,  in  particular,  asked  the  examiners, 
had  happened  to  the  $33,000  cash  shortage? 

"We  took  that  money,"  Wilfred  answered,  "and  we  used  it  for 
our  own  personal  obligations." 

"That's  right,"  agreed  Mark. 

One  of  the  state  men  asked  about  the  bonds  which  depositors 
had  placed  with  the  bank  for  safekeeping. 

"Well,"  admitted  Wilfred,  "we  had  to  use  some  of  those  too." 

But  though  Watterson  was  at  bay  he  was  not  yet  beaten.  All 
his  persuasive  powers  were  mustered  to  convince  Woods  that  dis- 
aster could  be  averted  if  he  would  take  his  men  out  of  the  bank 
and  give  it  a  chance  to  make  up  the  shortages.  The  banking 
commissioner  relented  but  gave  the  brothers  only  five  days.  When 
the  hoped-for  loans  from  Los  Angeles  had  not  arrived  by  August 
10,  Woods  made  formal  charges  of  embezzlement.  The  two 
brothers  were  arrested  and  released  on  $25,000  bail  each,  which 
was  put  up  by  several  Bishop  friends. 

Meanwhile  some  forty  upper-valley  men  met  near  Bishop  and 
determined  to  raise  the  shortage  money  among  Inyo  citizens.  So 
great  was  public  confidence  in  the  bankers  that  nearly  $  i  ,000,000 
was  pledged  by  valley  people  within  two  days.  One  Lone  Pine 
woman  offered  to  deed  over  her  unencumbered  ranch  property  if 
it  would  help  in  the  emergency.  Superior  Judge  William  Dehy 
wrote  up  from  Independence  that  he  had  a  few  bonds  and  securi- 
ties which  the  brothers  were  welcome  to  use. 

In  a  series  of  meetings  the  Wattersons  explained  their  actions 
to  the  people,  claiming  that  the  city's  invasion  of  the  upper  valley 


in  1923  had  forced  them  to  assume  leadership  in  the  community; 
that  the  bank  funds  had  been  channeled  into  mining  and  other 
Watterson  enterprises  to  make  them  replace  the  loss  of  farming 
as  a  valley  industry. 

"We  stood  by  you,"  said  Wilfred,  "and  we  have  been  forced 
to  be  a  sacrifice." 

But  discoveries  still  being  made  by  the  banking  examiners 
showed  an  enormity  in  embezzlement  that  could  scarcely  be  laid 
to  actions  of  the  city.  While  the  other  Watterson  branches  were 
in  good  condition,  a  total  of  $2,300,000  was  missing  from  the 
Inyo  County  Bank  in  Bishop  and  the  Watterson  corporations. 
When  it  was  revealed  that  securities  placed  in  safekeeping  by 
trusting  friends  had  been  sold,  that  many  mortgages  and  loans 
paid  off  by  thrifty  farmers  had  never  been  canceled  and  were 
still  on  the  books,  that  at  least  two  biennial  banking  reports  had 
been  falsified  to  cover  thefts,  a  terrible  awakening  swept  over  the 
valley.  The  total  loss  of  more  than  $400,000  in  irrigation  district 
bonds  added  strength  to  the  belief  that,  instead  of  their  losses 
being  caused  by  the  water  struggle,  it  was  the  Wattersons'  des- 
perate need  of  money  which  had  motivated  many  of  their  actions 
in  that  struggle. 

Not  the  least  shocked  was  Harry  Glasscock,  whose  newspaper 
had  been  devoted  to  the  cause  led  by  the  Wattersons.  His  ex- 
penditures, including  trips  to  Sacramento  and  Los  Angeles  in  the 
water  cause,  had  been  partly  paid  with  Watterson  drafts;  for 
these  he  had  signed  notes  on  his  presses  and  equipment — merely 
as  a  formality,  as  the  Wattersons  had  told  him.  But  when  the 
bank  went  down  his  notes  were  on  the  books  and  his  entire 
business  was  in  jeopardy. 

Disillusioned  by  the  men  he  had  championed,  Glasscock  left 
his  office  and  went  on  one  of  his  periodic  drinking  sprees  for 
several  weeks  while  his  employees  turned  out  the  Owens  Valley 
Herald.  When  at  last  he  reappeared  in  charge  of  the  paper,  he 
ran  an  editorial  on  August  31,  relinquishing  the  stand  he  had 
made  for  years  in  support  of  the  Wattersons.  He  would  never, 
wrote  Glasscock,  "make  excuses  or  apologies  for  people  who  have 
violated  the  confidence"  of  Inyo  citizens;  "we  cannot  longer, 
under  the  circumstances,  ask  the  people  of  Owens  Valley  to  con- 
tinue under  their  past  leadership." 

Before  the  year's  end  his  equipment  had  been  attached  by  the 
bank's  assignees  and  his  paper  was  defunct.  A  few  months  later, 
while  staying  in  a  Los  Angeles  hotel,  the  beaten  crusader  was 
overcome  with  despondency.  After  telling  a  fellow  newspaper- 
man over  the  phone  that  he  was  "going  on  the  great  adventure," 
Harry  Glasscock  took  a  fatal  dose  of  poison. 

Most  tragic  effect  of  the  debacle  was  the  almost  complete 
financial  prostration  of  the  valley's  people.  All  business  had  been 
transacted  through  these  five  banks,  and  their  closure  had  left 
merchants  and  customers  alike  with  nothing  but  small  change  on 
hand.  Lifetime  savings  of  the  people — in  many  cases  the  entire 
payment  gained  from  the  city  for  the  sale  of  homes  and  ranches 
— had  been  wiped  out.  Practically  isolated  by  mountains  from  the 
rest  of  California,  the  valley  found  its  trade  paralyzed  for  lack  of 
currency.  Los  Angeles  water  employees  were  paid  a  month  in 
advance  to  bring  some  relief,  but  it  was  impossible  to  prevent  one 
business  after  another  from  closing  its  doors. 

By  mid-September  a  Bakersfield  bank  opened  branches  in  the 
valley  and  helped  to  relieve  the  stagnation.  At  the  same  time  the 
charter  for  the  Owens  Valley  Bank  sought  by  the  city's  agents 
was  granted  by  the  state ;  a  few  months  later  the  Bank  of  America 
used  it  to  open  a  valley  branch.  But  the  new  banking  facilities 
could  never  compensate  for  the  loss  of  fortune  which  nearly  every 
resident  suffered. 

The  trial  of  the  Wattersons  opened  in  Independence  early  in 
November,  with  a  crowd  of  solemn  valley  people  filling  the  court- 
room. District  Attorney  Hession,  acting  in  the  painful  role  of 
prosecutor  of  lifetime  friends,  introduced  his  evidence  of  short- 
ages with  methodical  repetition,  constructing  an  undeniable  case. 
The  only  defense  of  the  Wattersons,  as  stated  in  their  own  testi- 
mony, was  that  the  money  had  been  taken  as  loans  which  they 
had  intended  to  pay  back.  But  Hession  pointed  to  the  false  credit 
with  Wells  Fargo  that  had  been  used  to  cover  up  shortages: 
"Now,  if  that  isn't  stealing  ...  I  don't  know  what  it  is." 

The  full  impact  of  the  tragedy  was  driven  home  by  Hession  in 
his  final  jury  address  on  November  n,  1927:  "It  is  their  neigh- 
bors," he  reminded  the  court,  "men  and  women  whose  confidence 
they  won,  whose  faith  was  unbounded,  who  are  the  victims  of 
these  men."  Before  he  had  finished  the  prosecutor  was  exhibiting 
brave  tears,  the  eyes  of  the  jurymen  and  many  of  the  visitors  were 


wet,  and  even  the  judge  himself  took  out  his  handkerchief  and 
valiantly  wiped  his  nose. 

Six  hours  later  the  jury  returned  a  verdict  of  guilty  on  all 
counts.  The  hushed  court  began  to  stir  with  relief  at  the  end  of 
the  last  tragic  act  in  the  Owens  Valley  drama.  When  the  session 
was  adjourned  some  remained  to  offer  consolation  to  the  two 
brothers.  Others,  torn  between  bitterness  and  lifelong  friendship, 
hurried  away  without  knowing  what  else  to  do. 

Within  a  few  days  the  Wattersons  were  given  from  one  to  ten 
years'  imprisonment  at  San  Quentin.  Paroled  in  1933,  they  re- 
sided in  Los  Angeles  for  the  rest  of  their  lives,  occasionally  visiting 
Owens  Valley. 

The  fall  of  the  Wattersons  ended  the  active  fight  against  Los 
Angeles.  No  longer  did  its  aqueduct  rock  with  blasts  from  em- 
battled valley  ranchers.  As  the  tension  relaxed,  a  voluntary  con- 
fession came  in  November  1927  from  one  dynamiter,  Perry 
Sexton.  At  the  same  time  city  detectives  had  traced  dynamite 
purchases  to  another  valley  citizen,  who  had  already  been  ar- 
rested. But  at  a  hearing  held  in  Bishop  the  following  spring  this 
combined  evidence  was  rejected  by  a  local  justice  of  the  peace 
and  six  defendants  were  released.  As  for  Sexton's  full  confession 
implicating  the  others,  the  judge  simply  would  not  believe  it.  It 
appeared  that,  whatever  else  they  had  lost,  the  valley  people  were 
resolved  to  protect  their  defenders  to  the  last.  Disillusioned  and 
beaten,  their  only  possession  now  was  an  unalterable  resolve,  as 
one  Inyo  newspaper  expressed  it,  that  "we  will  yet,  somewhere, 
somehow,  find  a  way  to  rise  out  of  the  dust  and  make  our  beloved 
Owens  Valley  as  sweet  a  place  to  live  as  it  was  in  years  gone  by." 

But  they  could  not  help  knowing  that  the  fate  of  the  valley  had 
passed  from  their  hands.  In  the  long  struggle  for  control  of 
Owens  River  the  Los  Angeles  Water  Department  had  suddenly 
won  a  more  complete  victory  than  it  had  intended. 

7:     Flood  and  Drought 

Los  Angeles  was  still  reeling  from  the  battle  of  Owens  Valley 
when  nature  and  bad  judgment  combined  to  deal  the  city  an 


overwhelming  blow.  The  underlying  cause  was  the  same  drought 
in  the  early  19205  that  had  brought  on  the  struggle  for  the  Owens 

Even  while  the  city  was  being  pushed  to  desperate  lengths  for 
water,  it  became  aware  of  an  undue  waste  caused  by  its  power 
plants  in  San  Francisquito  Canyon,  some  twenty  miles  north  of 
San  Fernando  Valley.  Unlike  water,  electric  energy  cannot  be 
stored;  it  must  be  sent  over  transmission  lines  and  used  in  homes 
and  factories  at  the  instant  it  is  generated  by  the  turbines.  The 
constant  flow  of  water  at  the  two  San  Francisquito  plants  was 
too  much  for  the  San  Fernando  reservoirs  to  hold.  Much  of  it 
was  dumped  into  the  canyon  bottom,  there  to  find  its  way  into 
the  Santa  Clara  River,  and  eventually  to  run  past  the  Ventura 
County  towns  of  Fillmore  and  Santa  Paula  on  its  way  to  the 
ocean.  This  loss  in  a  drought  season  was  deplored  by  the  Water 
Department  and  taken  into  court  by  at  least  one  irate  San  Fer- 
nando Valley  farmer. 

Obviously  a  great  new  reservoir  site  below  at  least  one  of  the 
power  plants  was  needed  to  help  the  two  San  Fernando  lakes  in 
storing  water  for  the  city's  use.  William  Mulholland  first  pro- 
posed a  dam  in  Big  Tujunga  Canyon  at  the  east  side  of  the  valley. 
Condemnation  of  the  reservoir  site  was  begun,  but  the  owners 
fought  for  an  extravagant  price  in  court.  Mulholland,  refusing  to 
allow  the  city  to  be  held  up,  had  the  proceedings  ended.  An  alter- 
nate reservoir  site  was  bought  in  the  San  Francisquito  Canyon, 
below  Power  House  No.  i,  and  construction  was  opened  in  Au- 
gust 1924. 

By  May  1926  the  Water  Department  had  completed  the  great, 
arch-shaped  concrete  structure  and  christened  it  St.  Francis 
Dam.  When  filled  to  capacity  a  year  later,  the  reservoir  held  some 
34,000  acre-feet — almost  equaling  the  combined  volume  of  the 
two  San  Fernando  basins.  Faced  with  continuing  drought,  Mul- 
holland had  doubled  the  city's  water  storage  none  too  soon; 
another  dry  season  in  1927  made  the  new  reservoir  a  veritable 
life  saver  for  San  Fernando  crops. 

Yet  the  heat  of  the  emergency  had  caused  Mulholland  to  over- 
look ordinary  engineering  precautions.  Along  the  San  Andreas 
Fault  much  of  the  Coast  Range  was  crossed  with  cracks;  at  the 
San  Francisquito  dam  site,  where  the  canyon  walls  were  formed 


of  mica  schist  and  conglomerate,  these  faults  brought  unusual 
water  leakage.  Before  the  end  of  1927  the  abutments  against 
which  the  dam  rested  had  been  soaked  enough  to  swell  slightly. 
In  January  1928  two  cracks  appeared  on  the  face  of  the  dam, 
beginning  at  top  center  and  slanting  downward  to  the  sides. 
Since  the  structure  rested  on  solid  bedrock,  this  indicated  that  the 
two  sides  had  been  moved  slightly  upward  by  the  swelling.  Water 
leaked  through  these  seams,  but  they  were  soon  calked  up;  some 
leakage  is  common  in  many  dams. 

Downstream  near  Power  House  No.  2  lived  thirteen  city  em- 
ployees and  their  families,  who  watched  the  passage  of  waste 
water  with  some  apprehension.  One  nervous  individual  was  con- 
tinually predicting  that  the  dam  would  break.  Early  in  March  the 
water  turned  muddy — a  dangerous  sign  that  abutment  ground 
might  be  giving  way. 

On  March  12,  Mulholland  and  Van  Norman  inspected  the 
dam  to  check  these  reports.  They  found  leakage,  but  to  their 
relief  noted  that  the  muddy  water  was  caused  by  some  nearby 
road  construction.  The  dam,  they  believed,  was  in  no  immediate 

Late  that  night  the  abutment  anchoring  the  east  end  of  the 
dam  collapsed  under  the  weight  of  the  water  it  had  absorbed. 
Several  minutes  before  midnight  a  whole  section  of  ground  broke 
off,  slid  past  the  face  of  the  dam,  and  thundered  into  the  canyon 
floor.  With  it  crashed  the  abutment  itself,  overpowered  by  the 
tremendous  pressure  of  the  reservoir  water. 

In  the  next  moment  both  wings  of  the  dam  crumpled  under 
the  terrific  outpouring  of  water.  While  the  whole  canyon  shook,  a 
giant  flood  hurtled  out  of  the  reservoir  on  either  side  of  the  cen- 
tral section.  On  the  crest  of  a  hundred-foot  wall  of  water,  huge 
blocks  of  concrete  rode  down  San  Francisquito  Canyon.  Several, 
weighing  thousands  of  tons  apiece,  were  carried  as  far  as  half  a 
mile.  The  canyon  had  suddenly  been  turned  into  a  great  trough 
for  an  overwhelming  mountain  of  water. 

At  Power  House  No.  2  the  families  were  asleep  when  the  giant 
thundered  down  upon  them.  The  man  who  had  predicted  disas- 
ter awoke  at  a  dog's  bark.  Hearing  the  awful  roar,  he  jumped  out 
of  bed  with  a  yell  of  warning  and  climbed  furiously  up  the  hill- 


side.  He  barely  escaped  the  flood  that  engulfed  the  others, 
smashed  the  power  plant,  and  rumbled  past. 

Down  the  canyon  it  swept,  stripping  the  sides  of  all  vegeta- 
tion, houses,  and  power  lines  for  sixty  feet  above  the  stream  bed. 
Pieces  of  aqueduct  siphons  were  carried  off  like  straws,  interrupt- 
ing all  water  supply  north  of  San  Fernando  Valley.  As  the  deluge 
poured  out  of  the  canyon  it  shot  past  Saugus  for  a  mile  before 
turning  at  the  command  of  gravity  and  flinging  itself  into  the 
Santa  Clara  River. 

At  a  rate  of  eighteen  miles  an  hour  the  giant  thundered  west- 
ward, carrying  an  ugly  burden  of  uprooted  trees,  houses,  and 
debris.  Castaic  Junction  was  overwhelmed  under  a  sixty-foot  tide ; 
only  a  handful  of  survivors,  warned  by  the  terrifying  roar,  es- 
caped to  higher  ground. 

Eleven  miles  farther,  at  a  construction  camp  of  the  Southern 
California  Edison  Company,  140  men  slept  in  the  path  of  the 
monster.  It  was  almost  upon  them  when  the  night  watchman 
heard  the  rumble.  Shunning  his  own  safety,  he  ran  through  the 
tented  streets  shouting  the  alarm.  Many  of  the  men  awoke,  but 
not  one  escaped  into  the  open  before  the  deluge  struck.  Suddenly 
each  tent  house  was  turned  into  a  bedlam  of  frenzied,  clutching 
men.  The  canvas  flaps  had  been  tied  shut  against  the  cold  March 
nights,  and  the  victims  fought  to  tear  their  way  out  of  the  sides. 
Some  of  the  tents  were  sealed  so  tight  that  they  floated  on  the 
crest  of  the  flood  like  half-filled  balloons — a  trick  of  fate  which 
was  all  that  saved  most  of  the  survivors.  One  man  rode  an  empty 
trunk  down  the  torrent;  another  sat  astride  the  company  water 
tank.  Survivors  were  eventually  washed  up  on  higher  ground  as 
far  west  as  Piru,  but  eighty-four  were  lost,  among  them  the 
heroic  night  watchman.  Fifty  automobiles  and  tons  of  electrical 
equipment  were  washed  away  or  buried  in  sand. 

Onward  through  the  rich  Santa  Clara  Valley  the  monster 
rolled,  leaving  no  life  in  its  path.  Orange  groves  almost  ripe  for 
picking,  apricot  and  walnut  orchards,  alfalfa  and  bean  fields, 
were  wiped  from  the  land  and  a  blanket  of  white  sand  left  in 
their  places.  Highway  bridges  were  splintered  by  debris  and 
washed  out.  Scores  of  farm  families  along  the  river  were  caught 
sleeping,  with  no  chance  to  escape.  Those  on  higher  ground  had 
time  to  scramble  for  safety  in  their  nightclothes,  abandoning 


home  and  farm  animals  to  the  deluge.  Others  found  house  and 
all  suddenly  picked  up  by  some  terrifying  force  and  carried 
madly  along,  until  crushed  by  the  torrent  or  smashed  against  the 
stump  of  a  broken  bridge.  A  woman  with  her  three  small  chil- 
dren— one  of  them  a  month-old  baby — clung  to  a  feather  mat- 
tress for  two  miles  down  the  torrent;  the  top  of  a  tree  caught  and 
held  them  until  they  were  rescued  later. 

More  than  one  household  was  aroused  in  time  by  the  frantic 
howling  of  the  dog.  Others  heard  the  flood's  terrible  roar,  later 
described  as  that  of  an  Eastern  tornado.  One  rancher  blasted  a 
hole  in  the  roof  with  his  shotgun  as  the  water  engulfed  his  house. 
The  family  was  crawling  through  when  the  building  began  to 
move.  It  sailed  downstream,  caught  in  a  group  of  sycamores,  and 
floated  there  with  its  passengers  until  the  flood  subsided.  Another 
family  of  fourteen  tumbled  into  a  single  car  and  headed  for  safety 
with  the  roar  ringing  in  their  ears.  On  the  way  they  stopped 
while  the  father  ran  to  warn  another  household  on  a  hillside. 
When  he  returned  his  car  and  family  had  disappeared  in  the 

The  town  of  Piru  had  no  more  warning  than  the  ranchers. 
Most  of  the  community  was  sheltered  by  a  hill,  but  settlers  near 
the  willow  bottoms  were  swallowed  up  before  they  could  flee. 
Seven  miles  beyond  lay  the  larger  town  of  Fillmore;  nine  miles 
farther,  the  chief  settlement  of  the  valley — Santa  Paula.  Tele- 
phone lines  had  been  washed  out,  and  all  hope  of  warning  them 
seemed  lost. 

The  first  alarm  came  from  the  Los  Angeles  power  bureau, 
which  had  investigated  the  cause  of  electricity  failure  from  the 
plant  in  San  Francisquito  Canyon.  At  1:15  A.M.  the  warning  was 
phoned  to  the  sheriff's  office  at  Ventura  on  the  coast.  Galls  were 
immediately  relayed  to  Santa  Paula  and  Fillmore.  A  squad  car 
swung  out  of  Ventura  and  roared  up  the  valley  with  siren  blar- 
ing. It  reached  Santa  Paula  as  local  officers  were  turning  out  to 
rouse  the  town  and  sped  on  for  Fillmore.  There  the  driver  pulled 
up  at  the  firehouse  and  began  ringing  the  bell.  The  telephone 
operator  was  already  warning  one  family  after  another  with 
frantic  calls.  Soon  the  cry  was  all  over  town:  "Flood  is  coming; 
get  back  to  the  hills!" 

For  half  an  hour  the  fire  bell  and  two  sirens  kept  up  their 


ominous  wails,  while  American  Legion  men  routed  the  people  in 
the  lower  part  of  town.  Ignoring  every  plea  for  her  own  safety, 
the  telephone  girl  remained  at  her  switchboard,  warning  isolated 

An  hour  after  the  first  warning  the  rising  roar  came  out  of  the 
east  and  sent  the  remaining  citizens  hurrying  for  higher  ground. 
In  a  moment  an  irresistible  wall  of  water  struck  the  lower  part  of 
town,  and  the  bridge  across  the  river  went  out  with  a  crash  that 
was  heard  for  miles.  From  the  main  street  of  Fillmore  the  people 
watched  while  the  fury  passed.  Then  they  followed  the  water's 
edge  as  it  receded — some  to  pick  treasured  belongings  from  the 

Nine  miles  beyond,  Santa  Paula  lay  in  the  direct  path  of  the 
flood,  unprotected  by  hills.  As  soon  as  the  alarm  arrived  from 
Ventura  the  whistle  at  the  nearby  Union  Oil  refinery  began  to 
sound  steady  shrieks  of  warning.  People  rolled  from  their  beds, 
expecting  a  fire;  seeing  none  through  their  windows,  many  turned 
back  to  sleep.  Others  found  the  electric  lights  were  dead  and 
realized  something  was  wrong.  Most  of  them  rushed  out  of  doors 
and  joined  the  excited  crowds  in  the  downtown  streets.  Trucks 
and  autos  were  dashing  by,  carrying  load  after  load  of  people  to 
the  safety  of  the  hills.  Here,  too,  the  telephone  girls  stayed  at 
their  posts  to  warn  the  valley,  not  knowing  when  the  flood  might 
strike.  Two  motorcycle  policemen  roared  from  house  to  house  in 
the  lower  residential  district,  pounding  on  doors. 

"The  dam  has  broken,"  they  shouted.  "Flee  for  your  lives!" 

About  three-thirty  in  the  morning,  two  hours  after  the  alarm, 
the  roaring  monster  descended  on  Santa  Paula.  A  twenty-five- 
foot  wave  billowed  through  the  streets,  overturning  houses  and 
autos,  carrying  some  of  them  downstream  in  its  teeth.  Onward  it 
raged  past  the  threatened  settlements  of  Saticoy  and  Montalvo. 
Then  shortly  after  five  o'clock  it  flung  itself  with  its  burden  of 
debris  headlong  into  the  sea. 

As  soon  as  the  crest  of  the  flood  had  passed,  the  people  of  Santa 
Paula  scrambled  back  into  the  valley  with  lanterns  and  flash- 
lights, searching  the  wreckage  for  survivors.  Hundreds  of  Ven- 
tura County  Legionnaires,  alerted  an  hour  after  the  dam  broke, 
took  over  the  work  of  rescuing  the  living  and  recovering  the 
dead.  There  were  few  injured  survivors;  the  deluge  had  made  a 


relentless  sweep  of  the  valley,  destroying  anything  caught  in  its 
way.  People  were  either  whole  or  they  were  lost. 

Scarcely  an  hour  after  the  flood  the  local  American  Red  Gross 
had  set  up  its  first  emergency  canteen  in  Santa  Paula.  In  three 
more  hours  it  was  fully  organized  and  serving  hot  breakfasts  to 
long  lines  of  refugees.  Ventura  County  Boy  Scouts  were  helping 
with  first  aid,  running  messages,  guarding  property. 

In  the  early  morning  all  Southern  California  heard  the  news; 
radio  stations  sent  out  appeals  for  help,  and  volunteers  were 
hurrying  northward.  The  Southern  Pacific  ran  free  trainloads  of 
rescue  parties  as  far  as  the  Santa  Clara  river  bed,  where  its  tracks 
were  washed  out  for  miles.  Southern  California  fuel  and  truck 
companies  promptly  donated  gas  and  equipment  without  charge 
for  the  emergency.  Scores  of  relief  cars  from  the  Southern  Cali- 
fornia Auto  Club  were  rushed  to  the  valley,  while  sixty  Los 
Angeles  policemen  patrolled  the  area  to  keep  out  sight-seers. 

By  10  A.M.  an  emergency  meeting  of  civic  leaders  was  held  in 
Santa  Paula  to  organize  for  the  disaster.  A  Citizens  Emergency 
Committee  was  formed,  headed  by  Charles  C.  Teague,  veteran 
valley  rancher  and  one  of  the  most  respected  men  in  California. 
Through  its  efforts  hundreds  of  refugees  were  sheltered  in  a  huge 
abandoned  packing  house,  while  others  were  taken  into  the 
homes  of  friends  and  relatives. 

In  Los  Angeles,  William  Mulholland,  builder  of  St.  Francis 
Dam,  was  prostrated  by  the  news.  The  tired  old  man,  his  face 
lined  with  remorse,  shuffled  into  the  office  of  the  water  and  power 
commissioners  and  reported  the  calamity.  "I  envy  the  dead,"  he 
said  later. 

By  the  next  day  the  entire  nation  was  extending  its  sympathy 
to  the  stricken  Santa  Clara  Valley.  That  morning  the  national 
officers  of  the  Red  Cross  reached  the  scene,  and  a  telegram  of 
condolence  arrived  from  President  Calvin  Coolidge.  To  the  peo- 
ple of  the  nation,  many  of  whom  had  experienced  the  slow-rising 
floods  of  Midwestern  rivers,  this  unexpected  giant  in  the  night 
was  a  strange  and  terrifying  thought.  There  was  yet  no  way  of 
knowing  its  death  toll,  but  it  was  later  fixed  at  385  persons,  with 
1250  houses  and  7900  acres  of  rich  farmlands  destroyed — alto- 
gether one  of  the  worst  disasters  in  American  history. 

From  the  beginning  the  city  of  Los  Angeles  accepted  full  blame 

for  the  appalling  catastrophe.  "Los  Angeles  cannot  restore  the 
lives  lost,"  declared  Mayor  George  Cryer,  "but  the  property  dam- 
ages should  be  paid.  .  .  .  The  responsibility  is  ours." 

A  committee  was  immediately  formed  by  the  city  to  share  the 
relief  work  with  the  valley  group  under  C.  C.  Teague,  and  the 
City  Council  advanced  $1,000,000  as  an  earnest  of  its  responsi- 
bility. Soon  other  joint  committees  were  set  up  to  work  out  pay- 
ments for  damages.  "No  question  of  the  legal  status  of  claims 
should  ever  be  raised/'  they  were  directed  by  Van  Norman  of  the 
Water  Department.  "The  moral  obligation  to  repay  damage  in 
the  valley  is  sufficient." 

As  a  result  Los  Angeles  paid  without  question  every  claim 
established  by  the  committees — a  total  of  $15,000,000.  More 
than  a  thousand  homes  were  rebuilt  by  the  city;  the  lower  section 
of  Santa  Paula  blossomed  as  a  model  community  of  modern 
houses.  Despite  the  number  of  ambulance  chasers  who  flocked  to 
the  valley  and  promised  huge  settlements  to  individuals,  not  one 
damage  claim  against  Los  Angeles  was  taken  into  court. 

For  the  next  few  weeks  after  the  disaster  San  Francisquito 
Canyon  was  alive  with  engineers  and  geologists  investigating  the 
cause  of  the  disaster.  Five  different  reports  were  rendered  to  state 
and  local  governments;  all  were  agreed  that  the  concrete  in  the 
dam  was  faultless,  but  that  it  had  failed  because  of  poor  rock 
foundations.  The  coroner's  jury,  sitting  in  Los  Angeles  a  few 
days  after  the  tragedy,  concluded  that  construction  and  operation 
of  a  great  dam  "should  never  be  left  to  the  sole  judgment  of  one 
man,  no  matter  how  eminent,  without  check  by  independent 
expert  authority,  for  no  one  is  free  from  error." 

That  one  man — William  Mulholland — was  felled  by  the  ca- 
lamity; but  he  would  not  shrink  from  the  responsibility.  Broken 
in  spirit,  he  feebly  took  the  stand  at  the  coroner's  inquest  and 
gave  his  forthright  testimony.  When  it  was  suggested,  by  way  of 
diverting  the  blame,  that  he  often  left  engineering  details  to  sub- 
ordinates, the  Chief  raised  his  tired  head  in  protest. 

"Fasten  it  on  to  me  if  there  was  any  error  of  judgment — 
human  judgment,"  he  said  in  a  voice  deep  and  trembling.  "I  am 
that  human." 

In  spite  of  the  dreadful  liability  placed  upon  him,  that  upright 
admission  earned  Mulholland  the  sympathy  of  Southern  Cali- 


fornians.  A  flood  of  editorials  and  letters  gave  him  ample  assur- 
ance, if  any  were  needed,  that  the  community  which  owed  its 
growth  to  the  water  he  had  brought  was  standing  by  him  in  his 
dark  hour. 

The  disaster  had  struck  Mulholland  at  the  height  of  his  career. 
Through  the  mid-twenties  he  had  been  able  to  turn  over  much  of 
his  duties  to  his  chief  assistant,  H.  A.  Van  Norman,  but  he  still 
rilled  the  post  of  superintendent  and  the  unofficial  title  of  "grand 
old  man"  of  the  department.  Recently  Mulholland  Dam  and 
Mulholland  Drive  had  been  named  in  his  honor  by  a  grateful 
city.  In  February  1927  he  had  been  the  guest  of  honor  at  a  bril- 
liant banquet  celebrating  the  silver  anniversary  of  the  city  Water 
Department.  All  the  notables  of  Los  Angeles  were  there;  after 
serious  speeches  by  Van  Norman  and  others,  the  Chief  had  been 
presented  with  a  loving  cup  in  the  midst  of  appropriate  eulogies 
and  a  thundering  applause. 

True  to  form,  he  had  opened  his  speech  with  sly  jibes  at  pre- 
vious speakers,  launched  into  some  anecdotes  at  their  expense, 
and  soon  had  the  guests  howling  with  delight.  One  distinguished 
crony  after  another  jumped  up  and  exchanged  stories  with  Mul- 
holland while  the  audience  roared.  In  his  lovable  way  the  old 
Chief  had  broken  the  ice,  had  turned  a  dull  evening  into  a 
hilarious  reunion,  and  had  shown  that  at  seventy-two  he  could 
still  lead  the  field  in  a  battle  of  wits. 

But  now  that  irrepressible  spirit  was  gone.  The  tired  and  sen- 
sitive old  man  could  not  withstand  the  shock  of  the  St.  Francis 
disaster.  For  six  months  he  turned  within  himself — a  stony  figure 
who  would  not  speak,  whose  friends  and  family  hesitated  to  ad- 
dress him.  Usually  a  hearty  eater,  he  scarcely  touched  his  meals. 
At  night  he  tossed  in  bed  or  walked  the  floor.  In  November  1928 
he  resigned  as  superintendent  and  left  an  active  career  with  the 
department  after  fifty-one  years.  Though  he  was  retained  as  chief 
consulting  engineer,  time  weighed  heavily  on  him;  he  was  the 
kind  of  man  who  had  never  taken  a  day  off  except  when  forced 
by  his  associates. 

"I  took  a  vacation  once,"  Mulholland  recalled.  "I  spent  an 
afternoon  at  Long  Beach.  I  was  bored  to  death  from  loafing  and 
came  back  to  work  next  morning." 

On  his  seventieth  birthday  in  1925  the  water  board  had  "di- 

rected"  the  Chief  to  take  a  vacation.  At  first  he  said  nothing,  as 
though  he  could  not  tolerate  such  an  idea.  But  in  a  few  days  he 
notified  the  board  that  he  "desired  to  be  absent  from  the  city  for 
about  a  week,"  and  headed  north  on  his  first  vacation  in  thirty- 
five  years.  At  Oakland  and  Sacramento  he  stopped  long  enough 
to  serve  on  two  consulting  boards  of  engineers,  and  was  tied  up 
in  work  again  when  a  birthday  telegram  reached  him  from  the 
Los  Angeles  board,  reminding  him  that  he  had  intended  to  take 
at  least  one  day  off.  He  finished  his  consulting  work  just  in  time 
to  catch  a  southbound  train  at  the  week's  end  and  appear  at  his 
old  desk  next  morning. 

Mulholland's  retirement  now  plunged  him  suddenly  from  this 
strenuous  life  into  one  of  lonely  leisure.  When  an  unexpected  rain 
struck  Los  Angeles  he  would  still  hurry  to  the  department  offices 
to  join  his  comrades  in  reassessing  the  city's  water  supply.  But 
ordinarily  he  found  himself  strangely  lacking  in  his  old  enthusi- 
asm for  life.  Even  his  hobbies  of  geology  and  nature  study  no 
longer  held  interest  for  him.  More  than  a  year  after  the  dam 
failure  he  was  taking  a  ride  in  San  Fernando  Valley  with  his 
daughter  Rose.  Suddenly  he  realized  that  the  entertainment  he 
usually  gained  from  the  sights  along  the  way  was  now  lost. 

"What's  the  matter  with  me?"  he  exclaimed  abruptly,  then 
slowly  gave  his  own  answer.  "I  see  things,  but  they  don't  interest 
me.  The  zest  for  living  is  gone." 

By  the  end  of  the  19205  it  seemed  that  the  same  disaster  which 
broke  Mulholland's  spirit  had  also  affected  the  entire  Los  Angeles 
Water  and  Power  Department.  Like  a  beaten  giant,  it  turned 
with  compassion  to  a  final  settlement  in  the  Owens  Valley  con- 
troversy. It  found  a  community  equally  distressed — prostrated  by 
the  fall  of  the  Watterson  banks. 

Resentment  in  the  valley  still  ran  high  against  Los  Angeles. 
Although  their  leaders  had  been  proven  false,  nothing  could  erase 
the  memory  of  years  of  struggle  with  city  officials,  and  nothing 
could  hide  the  neglected  fields  and  empty  farmhouses  remaining 
on  lands  acquired  by  the  city's  purchasing  agents.  It  was  time  for 
understanding  by  negotiators  on  both  sides.  In  the  generous  pay- 
ment of  St.  Francis  disaster  claims  Los  Angeles  had  learned  that 
the  good  will  of  the  people  involved  was  worth  far  more  than  the 


money  that  might  be  saved  by  taking  a  coldly  legal  view  of 

Two  problems  remained  for  final  settlement  in  Owens  Valley 
— sale  of  the  Keough  pool  and  other  ranch  properties,  and  com- 
pensation for  loss  of  trade  for  town  properties.  These  were  the 
issues  which  had  inflamed  valley  men  to  violence  in  1927.  That 
violence  had  ended  only  in  defeat  for  the  settlers,  but  the  city 
now  moved  to  fulfill  the  conditions  they  had  sought. 

In  the  summer  of  1929,  Los  Angeles  agreed  to  a  three-man 
arbitration  committee — one  of  the  old  valley  demands — for  the 
fixing  of  prices  for  remaining  ranch  property.  Each  side  selected 
a  representative,  and  the  two  then  chose  a  third,  impartial  mem- 
ber. After  going  over  thirty-eight  pieces  of  property  they  fixed  a 
series  of  appraisals  which  were  largely  favorable  to  the  valley. 
Both  sides  accepted;  the  Owens  River  Canal  ranchers  did  not 
get  the  full  price  demanded,  but  they  had  profited  by  waiting. 
Time  and  arbitration  had  gained  them  what  dynamite  could  not. 

When  it  came  to  the  town  properties,  the  Los  Angeles  men 
refused  to  consider  reparations.  They  agreed,  however,  that  the 
city  could  buy  the  land  and  improvements  outright  and  lease 
them  back  to  the  occupants.  In  September  1929  a  committee  of 
valley  representatives  met  with  city  officials  at  Independence  to 
work  out  this  proposal.  Heading  the  Los  Angeles  group  was 
Judge  Harlan  J.  Palmer,  then  president  of  the  water  board, 
whom  valley  people  respected  as  a  fair  arbiter.  He  proposed  a 
generous  formula  for  prices  which  was  thereupon  accepted. 

The  following  year  Los  Angeles  voted  the  necessary  bonds — 
over  $12,000,000  to  "clean  up  Owens  Valley."  According  to 
agreement,  the  city  paid  peak  1923  prices  for  town  properties 
during  the  depression  years  which  followed,  yielding  far  greater 
values  for  sellers  than  they  could  have  made  on  the  open  market. 
Los  Angeles  was  making  an  expensive  try  at  gaining  the  good 
will  of  the  valley  and  bringing  the  long  struggle  to  an  end. 

But  though  Los  Angeles  owned  practically  all  of  Owens  Valley 
by  the  mid-thirties — from  farmlands  to  store  buildings — it  had 
solved  the  rankling  problem  only  in  a  mechanical  way.  Owens 
Valley  remained  a  tenant  community  dependent  on  a  single  land- 
lord. Those  who  had  sold  town  property  signed  away  all  right  to 
sue  the  city  for  reparations;  those  selling  farmlands  leased  them 


back  minus  the  water  rights,  and  irrigated  their  crops  only 
through  short-term  agreements  or  the  sufferance  of  the  city.  Los 
Angeles  had  brought  an  end  to  the  Owens  Valley  question,  but 
only  in  so  far  as  its  own  purposes  were  concerned.  So  long  as  an 
unwatered  Owens  Valley  remained,  such  a  settlement  was  Cali- 
fornia's loss. 

Through  the  dry  years  of  the  early  19305  valley  agriculture 
reached  its  lowest  ebb.  Besides  draining  every  drop  of  surface 
water  into  the  aqueduct,  Los  Angeles  dotted  its  land  with  wells 
and  pumped  water  out  so  determinedly  that  underground  levels 
sank  to  depths  which  made  ordinary  farming  impossible.  The 
settlers  still  selling  to  the  city  had  no  reason  for  remaining  on 
their  lands  and  were  soon  engaged  in  the  third  exodus  from 
Owens  Valley.  In  the  lean  years  from  1929  to  1936  school  en- 
rollment dropped  thirteen  per  cent.  Hardest  hit  were  the  towns  of 
Big  Pine  and  Independence,  which  today  stand  with  more  than 
one  vacant  store  building  and  empty  highway  lot. 

Through  this  period,  as  in  the  middle  twenties,  families  were 
piling  autos  high  with  household  belongings,  taking  a  last  look  at 
the  old  farmhouse,  and  heading  down  the  highway  to  Southern 
California  or  San  Joaquin  Valley.  They  had  not  been  driven  from 
their  homes,  as  some  have  claimed.  But  with  the  sale  of  their 
property  they  had  left  behind  a  part  of  their  lives  in  as  beautiful 
a  pastoral  valley  as  California  possesses.  Their  feelings  at  this 
uprooting  process  were  expressed  in  a  series  of  prose  sketches 
appearing  in  the  Inyo  Independent  during  the  early  thirties. 

"It  is  not  the  loss  of  the  home,  or  the  garden  ...  or  the 
growing  business  which  has  been  the  test,"  said  one;  "it's  the  loss 
of  the  years,  and  the  hope  and  the  endeavor.  ..." 

Stronger  words  than  these  were  hurled  at  the  city  in  a  simulta- 
neous outburst  of  critical  writing.  It  seemed  that  all  the  pent-up 
feelings  created  by  the  Owens  Valley  war  were  suddenly  released 
in  a  torrent  of  words.  Willie  Chalfant,  unrelenting  editor  of  the 
Inyo  Register,  turned  out  a  revised  edition  of  his  Story  of  Inyo  in 
1933,  unleashing  a  terrific  diatribe  against  Los  Angeles.  Since 
Fred  Eaton's  original  reconnaissance  trip  to  the  valley  in  1904, 
Chalfant  had  witnessed  the  whole  drama,  and  had  recorded  it  in 
his  weekly  newspaper.  Like  a  prosecuting  attorney,  he  now  mar- 
shaled his  evidence,  drawing  his  conclusions  without  quarter. 


With  adequate  storage  of  flood  waters  [he  declared],  there  would 
have  been  little  occasion  for  interference  with  the  streams  that  were 
the  very  life-blood  of  Owens  Valley;  there  would  have  been  no  de- 
struction of  homes  and  farms;  Owens  Valley  towns  would  have  con- 
tinued to  grow;  there  would  have  been  water  for  all;  millions  of  dollars 
would  have  been  saved  to  the  city;  and  Los  Angeles  would  not  have 
created  for  itself  a  repute  that  generations  may  not  forget. 

At  the  same  time  outside  writers  were  seizing  the  Owens  Valley 
story  and  extracting  from  it  the  last  drop  of  pathos  and  sensation- 
alism. A  Southern  California  newspaperman  named  Morrow 
Mayo  far  surpassed  Chalfant's  accusations  in  his  history  book, 
Los  Angeles.  Under  the  provocative  chapter  title,  "The  Rape  of 
Owens  Valley,"  he  tackled  his  subject  with  obvious  relish.  Some 
of  the  legitimate  complaints  of  valley  people  became  the  basis  of 
wild  charges  and  inaccurate  history. 

"The  city  of  the  Angels  moved  through  this  valley  like  a  devas- 
tating plague,"  he  charged.  "It  was  ruthless,  stupid,  cruel,  and 
crooked.  It  deliberately  ruined  Owens  Valley.  It  stole  the  waters 
of  the  Owens  River." 

To  refute  his  statements  one  by  one  would  seem  unnecessary 
if  they  had  not  been  believed  and  repeated  by  later  writers.  He 
claimed,  for  example,  that  the  Owens  Valley  project  was  con- 
ceived by  the  men  who  bought  land  in  San  Fernando  Valley  for 
the  purpose  of  reaping  huge  profits  at  public  expense;  that  Los 
Angeles  "forced  the  ranchers  to  sell  to  the  city  at  condemnation 
prices  and  get  out";  that  it  took  water  from  the  river  forcibly 
without  a  legal  right,  "with  armed  men  patrolling  the  aqueduct 
and  the  river  day  and  night." 

Even  the  Owens  Valley  people  made  no  such  claims  as  these. 
Fred  Eaton  and  no  other  conceived  the  Owens  River  scheme.  In 
practically  every  case  ranchers  sold  to  the  city  because  they  were 
offered  highly  attractive  prices.  Los  Angeles  took  extreme  care  to 
establish  legal  water  rights  from  the  beginning;  for  several  years, 
in  fact,  it  was  prevented  from  exercising  part  of  these  rights 
because  of  forcible  diversions  by  some  of  the  ranchers.  And  the 
aqueduct  guards  were  not  mounted  to  take  water  from  the  river 
but  to  protect  the  ditch  from  dynamitings  by  some  of  the  valley 

Unfortunately  Mr.  Mayo's  book  has  not  been  challenged,  and 


has  stood  as  the  prime  source  on  the  Owens  Valley  story  for  other 
writers.  By  now  the  distorted  claims  are  tacitly  accepted  as  fact. 
Many  an  Angeleno  believes  that  his  city  "robbed"  Owens  Valley 
of  its  water  and  used  it  for  nothing  else  than  to  fatten  San 
Fernando  Valley. 

Certainly  the  Owens  Valley  episode  was  bad  enough  without 
burdening  Los  Angeles  with  such  imaginary  crimes.  It  appears 
true  that  city  officials  used  questionable  political  methods  to  kill 
federal  development  in  Owens  Valley,  gain  rights  of  way,  and 
hold  water  filings;  that  they  failed  to  build  a  reservoir  at  the 
head  of  the  aqueduct  which  would  have  prevented  the  need  of 
desolating  Owens  Valley;  that  for  several  years  they  had  no 
settled  land-buying  policy,  causing  loss  of  confidence  among  val- 
ley citizens;  and  that  they  hurt  business  in  the  towns  by  the  pur- 
chase of  farms,  but  refused  to  assume  responsibility  for  such 
losses.  These  are  the  grievances  of  valley  people. 

Without  these  injustices  there  would  have  been  ample  reason 
for  good  feeling  between  city  and  valley.  Los  Angeles  had  shown 
examples  of  good  will  which  in  other  circumstances  would  have 
earned  the  friendship  of  the  settlers.  Construction  of  the  aque- 
duct had  brought  Owens  Valley  its  long-sought  rail  connection 
with  Southern  California;  city  power  plants  provided  electricity 
for  Lone  Pine  and  Independence;  while  exempted  by  law  from 
paying  taxes  in  Inyo  County,  Los  Angeles  voluntarily  paid  them 
anyway,  and  helped  to  push  through  a  legislative  bill  legalizing 
the  process;  it  exerted  efforts  to  get  a  paved  highway  into  the 
valley,  and  helped  local  towns  to  publicize  the  attractions  of  the 
eastern  Sierra. 

But  the  spirit  of  co-operation  which  might  have  been  engen- 
dered by  these  neighborly  deeds  was  turned  into  hatred  and  vio- 
lence by  the  results  of  one  tragic  mistake.  From  the  city's  failure 
to  build  Long  Valley  Dam  stem  most  of  the  other  costly  events; 
through  it  Los  Angeles  could  have  had  enough  storage  capacity 
to  tide  itself  through  dry  years  and  still  leave  surplus  water  for 
Owens  Valley  farmers.  Without  it  the  drought  forced  city  pur- 
chases in  the  upper  valley  and  loss  of  trade  to  its  townspeople. 
When  Los  Angeles  failed  to  heed  protests  from  the  settlers  their 
answer  was  written  with  dynamite. 

Ironically  enough,  Los  Angeles  tolerated  this  glaring  mistake 


throughout  the  Owens  Valley  war.  Only  after  the  crisis  had 
passed  and  the  entire  valley  lay  in  its  control  did  the  city  turn  to 
remove  the  root  of  the  trouble. 

It  had  long  been  known  that  Los  Angeles  could  acquire  Long 
Valley  whenever  it  would  meet  Fred  Eaton's  price,  which  was  a 
million  dollars  or  more.  Mulholland,  believing  Eaton  was  at- 
tempting to  hold  up  the  city,  had  refused  to  deal.  But  by  the 
middle  igsos,  when  drought  was  threatening  their  water  supply, 
Los  Angeles  officials  were  ready  to  ignore  Mulholland's  feud  with 
Eaton.  Ed  Leahey,  the  city's  valley  representative,  had  begun 
buying  land  in  upper  Owens  Valley  at  extravagant  prices,  and 
believed  the  same  liberality  should  be  extended  to  Long  Valley. 

"Eaton  has  never  been  connected  with  the  dynamitings,"  he 
told  Mulholland.  "We  should  give  him  as  good  a  deal  as  the 

The  Chief  agreed,  and  negotiations  were  opened  with  the  man 
who  ruled  Long  Valley.  But  Eaton  was  quick-tempered  and  stub- 
born ;  after  trying  for  twenty  years  to  get  his  price  on  the  property, 
he  would  not  compromise  now.  He  knew  Long  Valley  was  far 
more  valuable  as  a  reservoir  site  than  as  a  cattle  ranch  and  be- 
lieved that  if  the  city  resorted  to  condemnation  it  would  have  to 
pay  a  reservoir  price.  Leahey  dickered  and  argued  with  him  time 
after  time,  offering  as  high  as  $750,000.  To  Eaton  the  amount 
was  unthinkable;  he  finally  developed  such  a  violent  reaction  at 
the  mere  mention  of  the  figure  that  the  Los  Angeles  agent  had  to 
forget  it.  At  one  time,  while  negotiating  with  Eaton  at  the  Cali- 
fornia Club,  Leahey  offered  to  submit  the  property  to  Dun  & 
Bradstreet  for  appraisal.  The  old  man  was  outraged. 

"You  call  yourself  a  friend  of  mine,"  he  shouted,  shaking  his 
cane,  "and  suggest  a  commercial-firm  appraisal  of  reservoir 

But  other  events  were  crowding  in  upon  Eaton  to  force  a  crisis 
on  Long  Valley.  Though  he  owned  a  controlling  share  in  the 
Eaton  Land  and  Cattle  Company,  there  were  other  interested 
parties  who  urged  acceptance  of  the  city's  offer.  About  1926, 
while  Eaton  was  in  Los  Angeles,  the  Watterson  bankers  loaned 
$200,000  to  the  Eaton  company  through  some  of  its  other  offi- 
cers, and  took  a  mortgage  on  Long  Valley.  The  transaction 
should  have  been  invalid  without  Eaton's  knowledge,  but  before 

he  could  take  necessary  action  the  Wattersons  sold  the  paper  to 
the  Pacific  Southwest  Trust  and  Savings  Bank — a  Los  Angeles 
firm.  Soon  afterward  the  Watterson  banks  crashed.  With  them 
went  the  $200,000,  which  had  supposedly  been  on  deposit. 

The  loss  was  the  beginning  of  disaster  for  Fred  Eaton.  He  was 
left  with  a  mortgage  on  his  Long  Valley  lands  and  no  way  to  pay 
it  off.  For  years  he  battled  the  Pacific  Southwest  Bank  in  the 
courts,  claiming  that  he  could  not  be  held  by  a  note  he  had  not 
signed.  But  in  1932  the  bank  won  its  case  and  foreclosed  the 
mortgage.  Long  Valley  at  last  went  under  the  hammer  to  satisfy 
the  debt;  Fred  Eaton's  twenty-seven-year  fight  had  ended  in 

Los  Angeles  bought  the  property  on  December  8,  1932.  It 
might  have  profited  by  Eaton's  desperation,  but  paid  an  ap- 
praisal price  of  $650,000.  Two  thirds  of  this  was  absorbed  by  the 
bank  note,  interest,  and  fees.  Eaton  and  his  associates  split  the 
rest,  and  had  little  left  after  paying  an  accumulation  of  debts.  It 
was  bitter  fruit  after  a  million-dollar  dream. 

At  last  the  city  had  bought  Long  Valley  at  its  own  price,  but 
the  few  hundred  thousand  it  had  retained  were  a  costly  economy. 
Many  millions  in  Owens  Valley  land  purchases  might  have  been 
saved  and  a  farming  community  spared  from  desolation  if  Long 
Valley  Reservoir  had  been  bought  and  developed  in  the  early 

As  for  Eaton,  the  long  years  of  struggle  toward  a  single  material 
goal  had  taken  a  relentless  toll.  Always  shrewd  and  willful,  Eaton 
grew  bitterer  as  old  age  crept  upon  him.  His  mind  became  so 
fixed  on  the  million-dollar  price  he  demanded  that  it  became  a 
fetish  with  him.  Some  time  after  the  Watterson  debacle  left  him 
hopelessly  in  debt  the  old  rancher  suffered  his  first  stroke.  There- 
after he  walked  only  with  the  help  of  a  cane  and  aged  rapidly. 

Not  long  after  the  foreclosure  and  sale  brought  an  end  to  the 
tension  Eaton  moved  to  heal  the  break  with  his  old  friend  Mul- 
holland.  In  younger  days  the  two  had  been  hearty  companions, 
had  shared  many  a  trip  afield  and  many  a  laugh  around  a  desert 
campfire,  but  it  had  been  thirty  years  since  the  two  men  had 
forsworn  each  other.  When  a  message  now  came  to  his  home  that 
Eaton  would  like  to  see  him  Mulholland  put  on  his  hat  and 
hurried  out  without  a  word.  At  Eaton's  house  he  was  ushered  to 

the  side  of  his  one-time  friend,  greeting  him  with  a  "Hello, 

They  were  the  first  words  that  had  passed  between  them  in 
years.  The  two  were  left  alone  to  compress  years  of  conversation 
into  a  few  minutes.  When  Mulholland  left,  the  old  enmity  had 
been  healed,  and  Eaton  had  absolved  himself  of  rancor.  A  few 
months  later,  on  March  1 1,  1934,  Fred  Eaton  died.  That  night  a 
brooding  Mulholland  made  a  strange  disclosure  to  his  daughter. 

"For  three  nights  in  succession  I  dreamed  of  Fred,"  he  mused. 
"The  two  of  us  were  walking  along — young  and  virile  like  we  used 
to  be."  Then,  with  a  pause,  "Yet  I  knew  we  were  both  dead." 

The  startling  experience  was  almost  a  prophecy.  Mulholland, 
younger  than  Eaton  by  one  day,  followed  him  in  death  by  little 
more  than  a  year. 

Los  Angeles  now  had  Long  Valley,  but  there  was  one  more 
obstacle  to  wipe  out  before  it  could  build  the  dam  that  would 
write  the  end  to  the  Owens  Valley  episode.  Ever  since  the  city's 
entrance  into  the  Sierra  country  in  1905  it  had  been  hampered 
by  a  private  power  filing  in  the  rapids  of  the  Owens  River  gorge. 
Situated  below  the  Long  Valley  reservoir  site,  the  gorge  was  an 
ideal  power  location.  As  the  Los  Angeles  Water  Department 
extended  into  the  electric  field  the  site  became  one  of  the  biggest 
factors  in  its  expansion  plans.  After  1920,  when  the  property  was 
acquired  by  the  Southern  Sierras  Power  Company,  Los  Angeles 
tried  to  condemn  it  in  the  courts.  But  the  private  concern  was 
already  operating  as  a  public  utility,  transmitting  power  as  far  as 
Imperial  Valley.  When  the  Supreme  Court  finally  ruled  that  the 
property  could  not  be  condemned  Los  Angeles  bought  it  out- 
right in  1933  and  ended  the  long  battle.  With  both  reservoir  and 
power  sites  in  its  hands,  the  city  plunged  into  active  work  on  Long 
Valley  Dam  in  April  1935.  Today  it  is  completing  tunnels  and 
powerhouses  to  harness  the  remaining  energy  locked  in  the  depths 
of  the  Owens  River  gorge. 

Meanwhile  a  continuing  drought  through  the  early  19305  had 
made  Los  Angeles  desperate  for  new  water  sources.  Into  Mono 
County,  north  of  Inyo,  went  the  city's  purchasing  agents,  buying 
water  rights  on  all  the  headwaters  of  Owens  River — McGee 
Creek,  Horton  Creek,  and  a  dozen  others  fed  by  jeweled  lakes  in 

the  snow-clad  Sierras.  North  of  the  Owens  River  basin  they 
tapped  every  stream  as  far  as  Leevining  Greek,  which  flows  into 
the  saline  expanse  of  Mono  Lake. 

These  waters  were  brought  into  the  head  of  the  Owens  River 
by  a  giant  eleven-mile  tunnel  under  a  row  of  extinct  volcanoes, 
the  Mono  Craters.  After  an  exasperating  battle  with  underground 
water  and  carbon  dioxide  gas  deposits,  the  great  bore  was  com- 
pleted in  six  years.  On  April  24,  1 940,  the  first  waters  were  turned 
through  the  Mono  Craters  tunnel  to  the  head  of  Owens  River, 
to  join  the  aqueduct  at  the  growing  reservoir  at  Long  Valley. 
It  was  a  gigantic  feat,  even  for  the  master  dreamers  and  doers 
of  the  Los  Angeles  water  system.  By  their  energies  the  southern 
metropolis  now  taps  almost  the  entire  east  slope  of  the  High 
Sierra — a  mighty  water  resource  extending  a  hundred  and  fifty 
miles  from  Mono  to  Owens  Lake. 

Beginning  in  1936,  a  series  of  wet  years  helped  to  bring  a 
rebirth  in  Owens  Valley.  From  despair  and  disillusion  its  re- 
maining settlers  turned  to  new  hope  as  the  community  shook  it- 
self out  of  its  slumber.  Little  attempt  was  made  at  farming,  but 
the  city's  withdrawal  of  its  water  wells  caused  the  native  grasses 
to  appear  in  the  valley  once  more.  Gradually  there  rose  a  flourish- 
ing cattle  and  sheep  business.  One  of  the  original  industries  of 
Owens  Valley,  stock  raising,  had  long  since  been  supplanted  by 
agriculture  through  the  magic  touch  of  irrigation.  Now  the 
settlement  was  starting  over  again,  retracing  the  same  steps  of 
development  which  civilization  itself  has  followed. 

But  this  time  the  valley  was  no  longer  isolated  by  mountain 
fastnesses.  Good  paved  highways  made  its  scenic  beauties  avail- 
able to  all  Californians,  and  especially  to  the  people  of  Los 
Angeles.  Owens  Valley,  gathering  strength  for  its  comeback,  took 
new  heart  and  enthusiasm  in  the  task  of  selling  itself  to  prospec- 
tive vacationers. 

Leading  this  movement  was  Father  John  J.  Crowley,  who  had 
come  to  Owens  Valley  as  a  young  Catholic  priest  in  1919.  To- 
ward the  end  of  the  water  war  he  had  been  transferred  elsewhere ; 
but  in  1934  he  returned,  broken  in  health,  but  hoping  to  rebuild 
himself  in  the  invigorating  mountain  climate.  Perceiving  the 
despair  of  the  valley's  people,  he  determined  to  make  its  re- 
juvenation his  crusade.  In  little  more  than  a  year  he  joined 


editor  W.  A.  Chalfant  and  other  businessmen  in  organizing  the 
Inyo-Mono  Association,  and  set  about  publicizing  the  vacation 
wonders  of  eastern  California. 

In  helping  Owens  Valley  back  to  life,  Father  Crowley  re- 
built his  own  health.  He  lived  to  see  his  parish  grow  into  a 
vacationer's  paradise,  saw  new  auto  courts,  gas  stations,  chain 
groceries,  spring  up  in  the  towns  of  Lone  Pine  and  Bishop.  By 
1940  a  million  tourists  a  year  were  pouring  through  the  valley, 
leaving  some  $5,000,000  in  trade.  Even  some  of  the  old-timers 
who  had  left  Inyo  in  its  dark  days  were  drifting  back  as  the 
community  returned  to  life. 

Most  of  this  vacation  traffic  was  coming  from  the  great 
metropolis  to  the  south,  which  had  been  mushrooming  for  twenty- 
five  years  on  a  foundation  of  Owens  River  water.  Thus  the  lost 
product  was  bringing  its  own  indirect  return.  Angelenos  who 
would  scarcely  admit  their  address  when  visiting  Owens  Valley 
in  the  bitter  twenties  were  now  welcomed  as  customers  in  the 
valley's  leading  business — the  tourist  trade. 

Nor  was  this  the  city's  only  aid  to  Owens  Valley.  New  water 
and  power  projects  brought  added  employment  and  heavy  pay 
rolls  to  the  eastern  Sierra  country.  By  1941,  Harvey  A.  Van 
Norman's  crewmen  had  finished  Long  Valley  Dam,  and  thereby 
corrected  the  mistake  that  had  sparked  the  Owens  Valley  war. 
Standing  1 1 8  feet  high,  the  earth-fill  structure  stores  1 83,000  acre- 
feet — not  far  from  the  amount  originally  demanded  by  the 
farmers  when  the  matter  reached  a  crisis  in  1922.  The  Los 
Angeles  Water  Department  will  soon  increase  the  storage  capacity 
to  285,000  acre-feet — enough  to  permit  Owens  Valley  a  certain 
supply  of  surplus  waters  with  which  to  turn  back  the  sagebrush 
and  attempt  to  rebuild  a  lost  farming  industry. 

On  October  19,  1941,  the  final  phase  of  the  Owens  Valley 
drama  was  opened  with  a  celebration,  attended  by  over  six 
hundred  Owens  Valley  and  Los  Angeles  people,  at  a  spot  over- 
looking the  giant  new  reservoir  in  Long  Valley.  It  was  the 
dedication  of  Crowley  Lake,  named  in  honor  of  a  country  priest 
who  had  helped  to  stir  Owens  Valley  out  of  its  despair.  Father 
John  J.  Crowley  had  not  lived  to  witness  the  event,  but  his  tragic 
death  in  an  auto  accident  the  year  before  had  left  the  valley 
people  determined  to  fix  his  name  to  the  waters  of  their  hope. 


Among  the  speakers  at  the  ceremony  was  Willie  Chalfant,  old 
and  embattled  editor  of  the  Inyo  Register.  His  comment  on  the 
Long  Valley  achievement  brought  an  official  close  to  the  struggle 
he  had  witnessed  for  thirty-five  years: 

"It  is  a  promise  of  the  end  of  dissensions,  and  we  welcome 
its  implied  pledge  that  hereafter,  City  and  Eastern  Sierra  shall 
work  hand  in  hand.  .  .  .  We  cannot  but  regret  that  this  enter- 
prise was  not  constructed  long  ago;  there  would  have  been  less 
of  history  to  forget.  .  .  ." 

Ahead,  it  is  hoped,  lies  the  kind  to  be  remembered.  There  has 
been  enough  of  discord  in  the  Owens  River  project  to  make  it 
stand  as  a  regrettable  example  of  the  strife  that  can  occur  when 
a  rising  city  reaches  afield  for  water.  The  episode  can  only  give 
formidable  support  to  the  expectation  that,  as  civilization  be- 
comes more  complex,  industrial  nerve  centers  must  inevitably 
be  thrown  into  competition  for  water  with  their  agricultural 


Part  2 

8:     The  Desert  Blossoms 

More  than  anything  else,  the  Owens  Valley  story  epitomizes  the 
basic  conflict  over  water  among  the  peoples  of  the  Southwest.  In 
most  of  the  arid  country  of  America  development  has  been 
limited  by  water  supply.  But  Southern  California  has  refused  to 
recognize  such  limits.  It  is  here,  therefore,  that  the  West's  funda- 
mental water  problem  has  rankled  deepest  and  has  driven  cities 
and  farm  communities  to  the  furthest  extremities.  Its  economic 
development  has  risen  out  of  its  water  development — first  from 
irrigation  along  its  own  limited  streams  and  finally  through  diver- 
sions from  far-off  sources  for  both  farm  and  city  use.  Certainly 
its  growth  has  not  been  held  back  by  other  disadvantages.  Like 
most  arid  regions,  its  soil  is  as  fertile  as  any  in  the  world. 

"Where  the  mesquite  grows,"  runs  an  old  desert  saying,  "you 
can  make  fence  posts  bloom  if  you  bring  water." 

The  lordly  Colorado,  as  the  one  great  river  worthy  of  the 
name  in  the  Southwest,  has  provided  its  most  spectacular  water 
projects  and  its  most  far-ranging  water  conflict.  One  of  America's 
three  great  water  systems,  it  drains  parts  of  seven  states  from 
Wyoming  to  the  Gulf  of  California.  Winter  snows  on  the  summits 
of  the  Rocky  Mountains — the  "white  gold"  of  the  West — make 
up  its  source.  The  sandy  beds  of  its  lower  tributaries,  from  Utah 
southward,  load  its  currents  with  mud,  helping  it  through  count- 
less ages  to  scour  out  a  deep  gorge  along  most  of  its  length. 


For  decades  after  the  white  man's  entry  into  the  Southwest 
the  Colorado  kept  its  secrets  locked  behind  these  impenetrable 
canyon  walls.  Then  in  1869  the  first  full-scale  exploration  was 
made  by  Major  John  Wesley  Powell,  a  Civil  War  veteran  turned 
geology  professor.  Starting  in  Wyoming  on  the  Green  River — 
longest  of  the  Colorado's  upper  tributaries — he  headed  down- 
stream with  eleven  men  and  four  wooden  boats.  Four  months 
later,  after  a  harrowing  passage  through  the  rapids  of  the  Grand 
Canyon,  the  expedition  reached  the  Gulf  of  California.  Powell's 
reports  of  this  and  later  expeditions  helped  to  unlock  the  mysteries 
of  the  Colorado  and  prepare  it  for  the  use  of  man. 

Outposts  of  the  American  frontier  had  already  begun  to  tap 
the  Colorado  system  for  meager  supplies  of  irrigating  water. 
In  1854,  a  party  of  Mormons,  the  West's  first  American  irrigators, 
settled  in  Wyoming's  Southwest  corner  and  began  diverting 
water  from  the  Green  River  to  their  crops.  After  Powell's 
expedition  other  settlements  sprang  up  along  mountainbound 
tributaries  in  Colorado,  as  fast  as  the  region  was  made  safe  from 
Indians.  In  the  early  i88os  farmers  began  to  cultivate  the  Un- 
compahgre  Valley,  southeast  of  Grand  Junction,  and  proceeded 
to  put  three  times  as  much  land  under  the  hoe  as  the  river  could 
irrigate.  Then  began  a  long  struggle  to  secure  relief  from  the  deep- 
gorged  Gunnison  River  several  miles  away;  it  did  not  end  until 
1909,  when  the  United  States  Reclamation  Bureau  completed 
one  of  its  first  and  most  spectacular  projects  with  a  six-mile  tunnel 
from  the  Gunnison  to  the  Uncompahgre. 

By  this  time,  however,  the  lower  basin  of  the  Colorado  was  out- 
stripping the  mountain  region  in  irrigation.  The  Southwest's 
first  water  diversion  from  the  Colorado  had  been  made  in  1877 
by  Samuel  Blythe,  for  whom  the  California  town  of  Blythe  is 
named.  He  was  soon  irrigating  crops  in  the  Palo  Verde  Valley, 
one  of  the  few  spots  along  the  deep  canyon  of  the  Colorado  where 
water  can  be  turned  onto  the  land  by  gravity  ditches. 

On  the  Arizona  side,  irrigation  first  began  in  the  Yuma  Valley 
in  the  early  18905.  When  the  Reclamation  Service  was  formed  it 
made  this  one  of  its  first  projects,  and  in  1909  completed  Laguna 
Dam — the  first  one  on  the  Colorado.  From  the  beginning  Yuma 
was  a  model  project  for  other  government  irrigation  efforts 
throughout  the  West.  But  having  begun  its  life  in  1902,  the 

Reclamation  Service  was  about  three  years  too  late  for  the  most 
spectacular  development  of  all. 

On  a  blistering  day  just  before  the  dawn  of  the  twentieth 
century  five  men  drove  their  wagon  into  the  sterile  depression 
known  as  the  Colorado  Desert;  from  a  spot  near  the  present 
Calexico  they  surveyed  its  barren  expanse. 

One  of  them  was  Charles  Rockwood,  a  huge,  powerful  young 
man  with  a  bulldog  appearance  and  an  enthusiasm  for  sharing 
in  the  great  task  of  reclaiming  the  arid  West.  In  his  mind  was  a 
plan  to  turn  this  treeless  inferno  into  an  agricultural  empire 
of  1,000,000  acres.  The  magic  ingredient  was  water.  Rockwood 
believed  he  knew  where  to  get  it. 

Another  was  George  Chaffey,  one  of  the  world's  leading 
reclamationists.  Founder  of  Ontario  and  other  California  set- 
tlements, builder  of  pioneer  irrigation  projects  in  Australia,  this 
quiet,  gray-bearded  engineer  had  carved  empires  on  two  conti- 
nents by  the  simple  formula  of  applying  water  to  the  earth. 
Rockwood  was  now  urging  him  to  build  the  canal  which  would 
bring  lifeblood  into  this  uninhabited  land. 

Chaffey  caught  the  vision,  for  he  was  also  a  man  of  big 
dreams.  But  his  practical  side  rebelled  at  the  expense  of  con- 
structing the  necessary  fifty-mile  canal.  Turning  to  Rockwood, 
he  told  him  it  was  no  use.  They  headed  back  to  the  town  of  Yuma 
while  Rockwood  nursed  his  disappointment. 

Ever  since  he  had  first  seen  this  land  in  1892  he  had  tried  in 
vain  to  finance  its  development.  Born  in  Michigan,  Rockwood 
had  come  West  as  a  young  engineer,  and  had  lived  in  arid  regions 
long  enough  to  know  that  this  was  a  project  of  magnificent 
promise.  As  chief  irrigator  for  the  vast  Yakima  development  in 
Washington — one  of  the  first  reclamation  schemes  in  the  North- 
west— Rockwood  had  gained  experience  and  fame.  Now,  through 
most  of  the  decade  of  the  nineties,  his  potentialities  as  an  engineer 
had  been  buried  in  this  visionary  Colorado  Desert  plan. 

The  physical  features  of  the  idea  were  obvious.  They  involved 
the  law  of  gravity  and  the  waters  of  the  mighty  Colorado  River, 
passing  unused  scarcely  sixty  miles  away. 

Like  any  other  muddy  river,  the  Colorado  forms  a  delta  of 
earth  where  it  enters  the  ocean.  Second  only  to  the  Tigris  as  a 
carrier  of  silt,  it  sends  down  enough  soil  every  year  to  refill  the 

Panama  Canal.  But  in  the  ancient  process  of  building  its  bed 
out  into  the  Gulf  of  California,  the  river  has  played  a  unique 
geological  trick.  It  has  completely  spanned  an  ocean  inlet  which 
once  extended  as  far  north  as  the  present  Indio,  in  Coachella 
Valley.  A  third  of  the  gulf  was  thus  cut  off;  its  water  evaporated 
in  the  sun,  leaving  a  dry  basin  below  sea  level  know  as  the 
Salton  Sink. 

But  the  silt-laden  river,  building  up  its  own  bed  on  the  delta  at 
the  rate  of  a  foot  a  year,  remained  unstable  in  its  course.  Several 
times  in  past  ages  it  had  left  its  channel  to  the  sea  and  turned 
northward  into  the  sterile  depression  it  had  created.  For  years  at 
a  time  it  had  poured  into  this  prison,  until  the  new  bed  had  been 
lifted  high  by  depositing  silt.  The  stream  was  then  obliged  by 
gravity  to  switch  southward  once  more  into  the  gulf.  The  inland 
lake  evaporated,  to  await  replenishing  ages  hence  when  the  in- 
decisive river  changed  its  mind  again.  It  was  one  of  the  most 
remarkable  geologic  phenomenons  in  all  of  nature. 

How  long  since  the  river  had  paid  its  last  visit  was  unknown 
to  Rockwood.  Native  Cocopah  Indians  told  a  legend  of  the 
inland  sea  which  once  filled  this  "palm  of  the  hand  of  God." 
Certainly  there  remained  as  a  telltale  record  the  ancient  shore  line 
around  the  rim  of  the  basin.  In  canyons  along  that  shore  line 
myriad  groves  of  palm  trees  stood  as  survivors  of  a  once  tropical 

Even  in  the  four  hundred  years  of  man's  acquaintance  the 
Colorado  or  one  of  its  tributaries  has  periodically  flooded  enough 
to  overflow  into  this  sink,  forming  a  temporary  lake  in  its 
lowest  depression.  Today  experts  can  examine  the  earth  on  the 
different  mesas  of  Imperial  Valley  and  identify  the  particular 
Colorado  tributary — Gila,  Salt,  Williams,  or  Virgin  rivers — whose 
floodwaters  rushed  in  and  left  a  deposit  of  silt.  It  is  these  layers 
of  fine  soil,  spread  by  flash  floods,  which  have  covered  the  alkali 
floor  left  by  the  sea  and  made  the  valley  fit  for  cultivation  by 
man.  Its  position  several  hundred  feet  below  the  Colorado  River 
has  laid  the  entire  region  open  to  gravity  irrigation. 

Others  before  Rockwood  had  visioned  the  latent  power  of 
the  Colorado  Desert.  Chief  of  these  was  Dr.  Oliver  Wozencraft, 
prominent  forty-niner  who  first  conceived  the  idea  of  reclaiming 
the  region  with  Colorado  River  water,  and  consumed  the  last 


forty  years  of  his  life  trying  vainly  to  promote  it.  Rockwood  him- 
self— first  called  to  the  Colorado  delta  to  build  an  ill-fated  irri- 
gation scheme  in  Sonora,  Mexico — remained  to  tackle  the  more 
inviting  problem  of  the  Salton  Sink.  By  1896,  after  repeated 
financial  disappointments,  he  joined  Anthony  H.  Heber  and 
several  other  associates  in  forming  the  California  Development 
Company.  During  the  next  four  years  he  haunted  Eastern  finan- 
cial circles  in  an  effort  to  raise  real  capital  for  the  venture.  But 
to  prospective  investors  the  Colorado  Desert  was  as  remote  and 
uninspiring  as  the  Sahara.  Capitalists  laughed  at  him,  saying  that 
even  if  water  could  be  brought  to  the  land  it  would  never  yield 
any  crops. 

"Why,  it  will  be  absolutely  worthless  anyhow,"  he  was  told. 
"Alkali  will  come  up." 

Late  in  1899,  with  the  California  Development  Company  facing 
defeat,  Rockwood  was  closing  up  his  New  York  office  when  a 
telegram  reached  him  from  California :  George  Chaff ey,  the  great 
irrigationist,  had  agreed  to  examine  the  project.  Hurrying  west- 
ward, Rockwood  met  Chaffey  and  accompanied  him  into  the 
Colorado  Desert.  But  after  two  months  of  investigation  the 
famed  empire  builder  pronounced  the  scheme  impracticable. 
Rockwood  returned  to  New  York  all  but  beaten.  By  February 
1900,  with  a  delinquent-tax  suit  threatening  the  company,  he 
wrote  to  Anthony  Heber  in  despair. 

"I  feel  very  much  inclined  to  jump  the  whole  business  and  go 
into  something  else,"  he  said,  "but  will  stick  to  it  for  a  month 
yet " 

George  Chaffey,  in  the  meantime,  had  not  been  able  to  dis- 
miss the  Colorado  scheme.  During  a  visit  to  Yuma  he  decided  to 
investigate  a  new  aspect  of  it  which  had  crossed  his  mind. 
Taking  an  Indian  guide,  he  explored  the  Colorado  delta  in  de- 
tail, finding  a  series  of  ancient  watercourses  into  the  Salton  Sink 
which  could  be  used  to  cut  canal  costs  to  one  tenth  of  the  esti- 
mate. He  returned  from  three  weeks  of  desert  hardships  which 
eventually  caused  him  permanent  deafness;  but  also  with  him  was 
a  fresh  enthusiasm.  He  now  saw  Rockwood's  project  as  an  un- 
surpassed opportunity  to  reclaim  an  empire.  When  he  reached 
Los  Angeles  his  son  Andrew  pointed  out  the  financial  risks  and 

begged  him  to  stay  out  of  this  shaky  California  Development 
Company.  George  Chaffey  would  not  listen. 

"Let  me  do  one  more  big  thing  before  I  die,"  he  said. 

Andrew  relented,  and  the  old  irrigator  sent  a  hurried  wire  to 
Rockwood  in  New  York  that  he  would  join  the  scheme. 

Chaff ey's  entry  into  the  project  proved  its  turning  point.  Early 
in  April  1900  he  contracted  to  build  the  canal  and  deliver  the 
water  at  the  upper  end  of  the  valley  in  return  for  a  quarter  of 
the  company's  stock.  Instead  of  the  formidable  name  "Colorado 
Desert/'  he  proposed  another  which  reflected  his  British  back- 
ground— "Imperial  Valley."  Immediately  the  name,  together 
with  the  luster  of  his  own,  gave  the  project  a  new  reputation. 

Spurred  by  lavish  boom  literature,  eager  settlers  were  soon 
driving  in  from  San  Diego,  Arizona,  and  all  the  Southwest. 
Excursion  trains  from  Los  Angeles  were  run  over  Southern 
Pacific  tracks  to  the  northern  end  of  the  valley.  From  there  the 
newcomers  were  whisked  southward  by  dust-caked  stagecoach 
to  the  heart  of  Imperial,  where  land  was  free  with  the  purchase 
of  company  "water  scrip." 

In  spite  of  intense  heat,  the  valley  looked  inviting  that  summer. 
The  spring  overflow  from  the  Colorado  River  had  left  much  of 
the  countryside  green  with  grass,  on  which  thousands  of  horses 
and  cattle  were  contentedly  grazing.  By  early  1 90 1  the  population 
had  jumped  from  zero  to  1500,  and  the  town  of  Imperial  was 
mushrooming  as  fast  as  mule  teams  could  bring  in  the  lumber. 
In  March  the  Imperial  Press,  first  newspaper  in  the  valley, 
blossomed  with  the  jubilant  slogan,  "Water  Is  King:  Here  Is  Its 

But  what  of  the  water?  Until  now  the  land  had  been  settled 
in  the  promise  of  it,  and  farmers  were  plowing  their  first  furrows 
in  anticipation.  The  only  thing  still  lacking  was  the  same  thing 
that  had  always  been  lacking — water. 

The  cause  for  delay,  as  usual,  was  financial.  Rockwood  and  his 
associates  had  kept  Chaffey  from  knowing  the  company's  rickety 
condition,  fearing  that  if  he  abandoned  them  the  last  chance 
to  reclaim  the  Colorado  Desert  would  be  gone.  Aside  from  the 
unpaid  taxes,  the  company  had  failed  to  buy  the  key  property 
through  which  the  canal  must  run.  Chaffey  was  outraged  to  find 
he  had  been  used  to  rescue  a  tottering  concern.  But  with  settlers 


pouring  into  Imperial  Valley  on  the  strength  of  his  participation 
in  the  scheme,  he  resolved  to  go  ahead.  Out  of  his  own  pocket 
came  the  money  to  pay  off  debts,  buy  the  necessary  land,  and  set 
the  company  on  its  feet. 

Late  in  November  1900  his  crewmen  attacked  the  big  canal 
with  dredge,  plows,  and  a  battery  of  shovels.  Near  the  prom- 
ontory of  Pilot  Knob,  just  above  the  Mexican  border,  he  built 
his  wooden  head  gate  to  control  the  inflow  of  river  water.  An 
intervening  range  of  shifting  sand,  the  "walking  hills"  of  the 
Colorado  Desert,  blocked  his  direct  path  to  Imperial  Valley. 
Swinging  below  them  through  Mexico,  Chaffey  carved  his  canal 
parallel  with  the  Colorado  River  for  over  four  miles,  connecting 
with  the  ancient  overflow  channel  known  as  the  Alamo  River.  For 
the  next  fifty  miles  westward  his  task  was  merely  to  clear  the 
brush  and  unnecessary  bends  from  this  ready-made  canal.  Finally, 
just  below  the  point  where  it  recrossed  the  border  on  its  way 
to  Salton  Sink,  he  built  another  control  works  to  divide  the  water 
into  the  valley's  various  irrigation  canals. 

Scarcely  five  months  after  he  broke  ground  Chaffey  completed 
this  blood  stream  to  the  thirsty  lands  of  Imperial  Valley.  On  May 
14,  1901,  the  old  man  went  to  his  head  gate  near  Pilot  Knob 
to  make  the  great  diversion.  Until  this  crucial  test,  no  one  could 
know  for  certain  whether  the  giant  experiment  would  succeed. 
But  to  his  son  in  Los  Angeles,  Chaffey  was  able  to  send  a  simple 
telegram  of  cheer: 

"Water  turned  through  gate  at  1 1  A.M.  Everything  all  right." 

Immediately  the  expectant  valley  sprang  to  life.  At  last  the 
Imperial  Press  and  its  "Water  Kingdom"  could  receive  their  king. 
Through  the  summer  of  1901  crops  of  wheat  and  barley  were 
sown  as  fast  as  water  canals  could  be  extended.  By  the  spring  of 
1902,  when  George  Chaffey  withdrew  from  the  project  after  an 
eventful  two  years,  400  miles  of  distributing  canals  had  been 
built  to  serve  up  to  100,000  acres  of  land. 

At  the  same  time  enthusiastic  citizens  decided  their  new 
empire  needed  the  Iron  Horse;  they  promptly  founded  the  Im- 
perial and  Gulf  Railroad  to  connect  with  the  Southern  Pacific 
at  the  valley's  northern  end,  boasting  openly  that  the  move  was 
a  bluff  "to  force  the  S.P.  to  build  the  road."  Imperial's  paper 
railroad  kings  did  not  wait  long.  Before  the  end  of  May  the 


Southern  Pacific  stepped  in  according  to  plan  and  laid  tracks 
into  Imperial  town  by  February  1 903. 

Trainloads  of  settlers,  responding  to  a  new  deluge  of  adver- 
tising, poured  in  to  bring  the  valley  its  first  real  boom.  New  towns 
— Brawley,  Holtville,  El  Centre — sprang  up  out  of  the  barren 
ground,  first  put  together  with  boards  and  canvas,  later  with 
brick  and  mortar.  Some  5000  people  reached  the  valley  that  year, 
more  than  tripling  its  population.  Crop  acreage,  standing  at 
25,000  in  the  spring  of  1903,  jumped  to  100,000  by  December. 

To  these  incoming  empire  builders  it  was  America's  last  farm 
frontier.  Once  again  they  were  suffering  under  the  same  pioneer 
hardships  of  a  generation  before.  At  first  they  lived  in  tents  and 
rude  huts,  lighted  by  candles  or  coal  oil,  without  telephones  or 
running  water.  During  the  winter  they  braved  bitter  frosts  to 
tend  their  crops;  by  summer  they  sweated  in  the  fields  through 
desert  heat  that  reached  125  degrees  in  the  shade.  The  battle  to 
bring  civilization  to  this  forbidding  region  was  an  American  epic, 
fought  with  the  characteristic  raw  courage  and  unyielding 
tenacity  of  the  Frontier  Farmer. 

But  the  builders  of  Imperial  Valley  were  soon  encountering 
other  enemies  beside  the  elements.  The  federal  government,  its 
enthusiasm  for  public  irrigation  projects  fortified  by  the  new 
Reclamation  Act,  was  moving  into  the  Southwest  with  a  clumsy 
tread.  Distrusting  any  development  by  private  companies,  it 
began  to  throw  every  possible  obstacle  in  the  way  of  Rockwood's 
scheme.  In  the  fall  of  1901  a  pair  of  overzealous  experts  from 
the  Department  of  Agriculture  came  into  the  valley,  armed  with 
hand  augers  and  mortars  for  testing  the  soil.  Their  report,  widely 
heralded  and  eagerly  awaited  by  valley  farmers,  fell  at  last  as  a 
bombshell  in  January  1902.  Over  half  the  land  in  the  valley,  it 
calmly  declared,  "contains  too  much  alkali  to  be  safe,  except  for 
resistant  crops.  .  .  .  For  the  worst  lands,"  it  concluded,  "the  best 
thing  to  do  will  be  to  immediately  abandon  them." 

To  most  of  the  valley  farmers  the  report  was  absurd.  Some 
of  these  very  soil  tests  had  been  made  in  fields  of  shoulder-high 
grain.  It  was  true  that  alkali  lay  under  the  rich  topsoil  washed 
in  by  Colorado  floods,  but  it  was  too  deep  to  affect  production 
for  many  years  to  come.  Melons,  tomatoes,  lettuce,  cotton,  grapes, 
and  almost  every  farm  product  were  growing  in  abundance, 


yielding  prime  market  prices  because  they  matured  ahead  of  the 
national  harvest. 

But  for  prospective  settlers,  the  report  loomed  like  a  detour 
sign.  Newspapers  used  it  to  attack  Rockwood's  California  De- 
velopment Company  as  a  gigantic  fraud.  Land  sales  fell  off,  and 
the  entire  project  faced  disaster.  Finally  the  company's  president, 
Anthony  Heber,  journeyed  to  Washington  and  discredited  the 
report  before  the  Secretary  of  Agriculture.  A  reinvestigation  was 
promptly  made  which  restored  the  valley's  reputation  before  it 
was  too  late. 

Imperial  was  booming  once  more  when  the  government  turned 
its  guns  on  the  project's  legal  title  to  land  and  water.  Suddenly 
it  developed  that  the  original  land  survey  had  been  erroneous; 
every  title  in  the  valley  was  therefore  faulty,  and  until  the  matter 
was  cleared  the  government  claimed  it  all  as  public  land. 

Then  the  C.  D.  Company  fell  into  a  squabble  over  water  rights 
with  the  newly  established  Reclamation  Service,  which  claimed 
that  the  federal  government  had  sole  jurisdiction  over  the  Colo- 
rado River.  In  an  argument  with  J.  B.  Lippincott,  chief  engineer 
for  the  service  in  the  Southwest,  Anthony  Heber  made  a  regret- 
table boast:  the  10,000  second-feet  claimed  by  the  company,  he 
declared,  was  enough  to  hold  practical  control  of  the  whole  river. 

"You  are  taking  the  water  illegally,"  retorted  Lippincott,  "and 
we  can  stop  you  in  a  moment." 

"I  don't  think  you  will  do  it — will  you?"  challenged  Heber. 
"Because  it  would  certainly  injure  those  people  very  much,  and 
if  you  do  we  will  have  to  lean  upon  the  Mexican  Government. 
We  will  certainly  connect  the  river  .  .  .  below  the  line,  which  we 
can  do  in  twenty-four  hours'  time." 

The  question  was  left  unsettled,  and  when  the  Imperial  people 
heard  of  the  conversation  alarm  spread  through  the  valley. 
Mass  meetings  were  held  over  this  threat  to  their  water  supply; 
telegrams  were  dispatched  to  Washington  asking  recognition  of 
the  project's  rights.  With  its  credit  sinking  and  its  settlers  clamor- 
ing for  action,  the  C.  D.  Company  moved  in  self-defense.  Heber 
hurried  to  Washington  early  in  1904  to  urge  a  bill  in  Congress 
legalizing  the  diversion  of  Colorado  water.  The  Interior  Depart- 
ment fought  him  before  the  legislative  committee,  whereupon 
Heber  made  his  famous  threat : 


"It  is  my  earnest  desire  to  worship  at  our  own  altar  and  to 
receive  the  blessing  from  the  shrine  of  our  own  government,  but 
if  such  permission  is  not  given,  of  necessity  I  will  be  compelled  to 
worship  elsewhere." 

True  to  his  word,  Heber  stormed  out  of  Washington  when  his 
request  was  denied  and  made  his  way  to  Mexico  City.  There  he 
asked  for  a  water  concession  below  the  border,  but  found  authori- 
ties unwilling  to  grant  it  without  a  stipulation  that  up  to  half 
of  any  water  taken  through  the  canal  should  be  used  on  the 
Mexican  side. 

The  terms  were  hard,  but  Heber  could  do  nothing  but  sub- 
mit. Without  an  unclouded  right  somewhere  on  the  river  his 
company  would  be  ruined,  and  Imperial  Valley  must  wither 
and  die.  Besides,  a  new  difficulty  was  also  forcing  an  abandon- 
ment of  the  American  intake.  The  initial  four  miles  of  the  canal, 
constructed  without  sufficient  grade  for  a  swift  flow,  had  be- 
come so  filled  with  Colorado  silt  that  in  low  periods  the  valley 
found  its  lifeblood  practically  choked  off.  With  the  farmers 
already  suing  the  company  for  failing  to  deliver  enough  water, 
Heber  was  desperate.  In  July  1904  he  signed  the  concession  and 
ordered  Rockwood  to  make  the  Mexican  cut. 

Plans  for  a  controlling  head  gate  on  the  proposed  intake  were 
quickly  submitted  to  Mexico  City  for  approval.  But  after  months 
of  exasperating  delay  Rockwood  found  the  fall  irrigating  season 
approaching  with  the  Mexican  cut  still  unbuilt.  He  hesitated  to 
make  the  opening  without  a  head  gate  for  control,  but  after 
checking  on  the  river's  flood  history,  he  was  satisfied  to  take  the 

In  October  1904,  Rockwood  completed  the  short  ditch  be- 
tween the  river  and  the  canal  at  a  point  four  miles  south  of  the 
border,  opposite  a  prominent  island  in  the  channel.  Water  was 
soon  flowing  through  it  toward  the  valley,  to  the  relief  of  its 
farmers.  In  one  stroke  Heber  and  Rockwood  had  foiled  the  gov- 
ernment's attempt  to  deny  their  water  rights,  and  had  by-passed 
the  silt-choked  portion  of  the  Imperial  Canal. 

But  the  C.  D.  Company  had  reckoned  without  the  unpredictable 
Colorado.  The  great  brown  current  wound  through  its  tree-lined 
channel  like  an  endless  snake,  gliding  in  apparent  calm  during 
its  low  stage,  but  rearing  its  angry  head  to  threaten  everything 


within  reach  in  time  of  flood.  For  four  years  it  had  flowed  on  in 
silent  wrath  while  man  had  toyed  with  its  power,  drawing  off 
part  of  its  body  into  the  ancient  inland  basin. 

Did  these  canal  builders  want  more  water  in  Imperial  Valley? 
Very  well ;  the  brown  serpent  had  been  building  up  the  bed  of  its 
channel  for  decades,  preparing  once  again  to  switch  its  course 
away  from  the  gulf  and  into  the  blind  sink  to  the  north. 

9:     Runaway  River 

Beginning  early  in  February  1905,  desert  cloudbursts  sent  a  series 
of  floods  pouring  down  the  Gila  River,  the  Colorado  tributary 
whose  branches  drained  most  of  Arizona.  Laden  with  logs  and 
debris,  its  reddish  waters  emptied  into  the  main  stream  at  Yuma 
and  hurtled  onward  toward  the  gulf. 

The  first  two  freshets  swirled  by  Rockwood's  Mexican  cut, 
merely  silting  up  part  of  its  opening.  Such  floods  were  unusual 
and  short-lived;  Rockwood  was  unconcerned,  intending  to  dam 
up  the  breach  before  the  spring  floods  of  the  main  Colorado. 

But  early  in  March  a  third  freshet  raged  down  the  channel 
with  twice  the  volume  of  the  other  two.  Swinging  headlong 
through  Rockwood's  cut,  it  eroded  the  entrance  to  an  alarming 
size.  The  engineer  now  found  his  main  problem  was  not  to  get 
enough  water  for  Imperial  farmers  but  to  keep  out  more  water 
than  was  needed.  Immediately  a  makeshift  dam  was  begun  across 
the  gap.  A  floating  pile  driver  pounded  three  rows  of  poles  in 
the  swirling  water  while  hard-working  crewmen  filled  the  spaces 
between  with  brush  and  sandbags.  Only  a  six-foot  gap  remained 
when  the  Gila  rose  in  its  fourth  flood.  It  struck  the  Mexican 
heading  on  March  18,  washing  out  Rockwood's  miserable  dam 
like  a  pile  of  straw. 

Imperial  Valley  was  in  serious  trouble  now.  There  was  no 
record  of  such  winter  floods  in  the  river's  history.  Although  the 
settlers  were  unaware  of  it,  this  was  the  moment  in  geologic 
time  when  the  Colorado  was  making  another  of  its  periodic 
switches  from  the  gulf  into  its  northern  basin.  Man's  fumbling 
work  was  merely  hastening  the  process. 


One  more  desperate  attempt  was  made  to  close  the  gap  before 
the  regular  spring  floods.  But  in  May  1905  the  rising  tide  of  the 
Colorado  found  the  workings  still  unfinished.  Long  and  sustained 
in  contrast  to  the  sudden  winter  flashes  out  of  the  Gila,  the  annual 
spring  flood  slowly  undermined  the  entire  dam.  Rockwood 
abandoned  it  to  the  river's  fury  in  June.  With  almost  half  of 
the  Colorado  pouring  through  the  hole  toward  Imperial  Valley, 
the  distraught  engineer  could  only  stand  by  in  helpless  insignifi- 
cance and  wait  for  the  flood  to  pass. 

But  in  the  valley  itself  continual  flooding  of  the  Alamo  channel 
brought  general  alarm.  All  at  once  the  people  realized  that  the 
river  was  out  of  control.  Already  the  Salton  Sink  at  the  valley's 
lowest  point  had  been  turned  into  a  vast  and  sparkling  Salton  Sea, 
rising  several  inches  a  day.  If  the  breach  could  not  be  stopped, 
they  feared,  it  would  keep  on  growing  till  it  reached  sea  level — 
and  the  whole  of  their  bright  new  empire  would  be  submerged 
like  some  lost  civilization. 

Frantically  Heber  and  Rockwood  appealed  to  the  Southern 
Pacific,  which  was  already  forced  to  move  its  valley  tracks  to 
higher  ground  by  the  encroachment  of  the  Salton  Sea.  They 
pointed  out  that  the  railroad  was  doing  a  promising  business  in 
Imperial  Valley  and  could  not  afford  to  let  it  die.  When  its 
California  officials  hesitated,  Rockwood  went  to  New  York  and 
approached  Edward  H.  Harriman,  the  railroad's  iron-fisted 
president.  While  still  in  his  forties,  the  dynamic  financier  con- 
trolled enough  railroad  to  make  him  the  dominant  figure  in 
American  transportation.  Without  hesitation  he  agreed  to  loan 
$200,000 — a  sum  which  dwarfed  other  river  investments — but 
on  condition  that  the  Southern  Pacific  take  temporary  control 
of  the  California  Development  Company. 

Rockwood  jubilantly  returned  to  the  valley  in  mid- June,  con- 
fident that  the  river  would  be  tamed.  But  his  spirits  were  soon 
shattered  by  another  trick  of  the  devilish  Colorado.  When  the 
summer  flood  subsided,  the  island  opposite  the  Mexican  intake 
showed  itself  above  the  surface;  before  the  valley  engineers  could 
stop  it,  the  entire  right  half  of  the  Colorado  had  been  deflected 
into  the  Imperial  Canal. 

Confined  in  this  narrow  passage,  the  river  was  forced  to  grind 
its  way  deeper  into  the  soft  ground,  forming  a  deep  canyon  which 


soon  cut  itself  back  upstream  to  the  north  end  of  the  island. 
Then  the  flow  on  the  Arizona  side  abandoned  its  course  and 
swung  headlong  into  the  Mexican  cut.  When  Rockwood  arrived 
to  find  the  entire  Colorado  River  leaving  its  channel  and  driving 
straight  toward  Imperial  Valley,  he  realized  that  this  was  as 
serious  a  problem  "as  had  ever  before  confronted  any  engineer 
upon  the  American  continent." 

Down  from  his  headquarters  in  Tucson,  Arizona,  came  Epes 
Randolph,  the  engineer  whom  Harriman  had  named  as  the  new 
president  of  the  G.  D.  Company.  Builder  of  most  of  Southern 
California's  Pacific  Electric  Railway  system,  Randolph  had  been 
Harriman's  shrewd  and  active  lieutenant  for  several  years.  At 
sight  of  the  runaway  river  he  telegraphed  his  chief  that  no 
$200,000  could  save  the  valley.  There  was  no  telling  the  ultimate 
cost,  he  advised,  but  warned  that  it  "might  easily  run  into  three 
quarters  of  a  million  dollars." 

From  New  York  came  Harriman's  answer:  "Are  you  certain 
you  can  put  the  river  back  into  the  old  channel?" 

"I  am  certain  that  it  can  be  done,"  Randolph  replied. 

"Go  ahead  and  do  it,"  concluded  the  railroad  president. 

The  decision  was  made.  Harriman  meant  to  stop  the  river  with- 
out regard  to  cost.  Rockwood  thereupon  threw  himself  into  the 
task  once  more;  between  the  northern  end  of  the  island  and  the 
Mexican  shore  he  began  building  a  new  brush  dam  in  July  1905, 
determined  to  deflect  the  entire  river  down  the  Arizona  channel. 
Starting  at  the  island,  a  floating  pile  driver  pounded  logs  into 
the  river  bed,  while  a  crew  of  Mexican  laborers  struggled  to  fasten 
a  brush  mattress  in  place. 

Against  this  obstruction  the  river  began  to  deposit  a  bank 
of  silt,  helping  to  form  its  own  barrier.  But  after  a  half-mile  sand 
bar  had  been  formed  the  concentration  of  the  channel  in  the 
last  125  feet  made  the  torrent  too  unruly.  Logs  and  brush  mattings 
were  no  sooner  rammed  into  the  breach  than  they  were  up- 
rooted and  swallowed  up  by  the  current. 

Rockwood  gave  up  at  last.  The  Mexican  shore,  little  more  than 
a  log's  length  away,  was  in  reality  as  distant  as  ever.  Some 
$30,000  had  so  far  been  spent  without  effect. 

With  the  autumn  irrigating  season  approaching  once  more, 
Rockwood  conceived  a  plan  to  stop  the  river  and  still  leave  a 


controlled  flow  of  water  into  Imperial  Valley.  At  a  point  down 
the  canal  from  its  opening  he  would  build  a  by-pass  containing 
a  wooden  head  gate,  through  which  the  water  could  be  diverted 
while  a  heavy  rock  dam  was  flung  across  the  crevasse.  Then  the 
flashboards  of  the  gate  could  be  closed,  the  water  would  find  its 
path  barred,  and  gravity  would  force  its  return  to  the  regular 
Colorado  channel.  Rockwood's  gate  would  remain,  however,  to 
permit  a  certain  flow  into  the  canal  for  the  crops  in  Imperial 
Valley.  After  getting  Randolph's  approval  of  the  scheme,  Rock- 
wood  left  the  details  to  others  and  turned  to  his  office  tasks  as 
general  manager  for  the  C.  D.  Company. 

Into  his  place  at  the  river  came  the  Southern  Pacific's  chief 
bridge-building  engineer,  F.  S.  Edinger.  Distrusting  Rockwood's 
head-gate  scheme,  he  abandoned  it  and  began  raising  another 
dam,  between  the  island  and  the  Mexican  shore.  Once  again 
brush  mattresses  were  woven  between  log  pilings,  but  on  this 
foundation  were  dumped  tons  of  heavy  rocks  which  gave  promise 
of  stopping  the  river.  By  the  end  of  November,  with  only  three 
feet  of  water  flowing  over  the  dam,  the  river  fighters  were  ready 
to  deliver  the  final  blow  that  would  divert  the  Colorado  out  of 
Imperial  Valley  and  back  into  the  Gulf  of  California. 

On  the  twenty-ninth  the  Gila  River  came  hurtling  out  of 
Arizona  with  100,000  second-feet  of  floodwater  and  a  grinding 
cargo  of  logs  and  debris.  It  washed  out  miles  of  Southern  Pacific 
tracks  west  of  Yuma  and  rolled  onward  for  the  Imperial  intake. 
All  night  long  it  battered  Edinger's  nearly  completed  dam  with 
its  irresistible  mass  of  driftwood.  Next  morning,  with  the  fury 
spent,  the  engineer  found  only  the  stumps  of  pilings  showing 
above  the  river's  surface  to  mark  the  grave  of  his  broken  dam. 

Two  thirds  of  the  island  had  been  washed  away  by  the  flood; 
through  the  crevasse,  now  grown  to  600  feet,  the  Colorado  was 
pouring  unchecked  into  the  Imperial  Canal.  One  observer  com- 
mented bitterly  that  they  "might  as  well  attempt  to  plug  an  open 
faucet  with  a  postage  stamp  as  to  stop  this  flow  by  brushwood 

A  few  days  later  Epes  Randolph  arrived  at  the  Mexican  break 
to  view  the  disaster  with  Edinger,  who  resigned  as  engineer-in- 
charge.  Rockwood  was  also  there,  angrily  pointing  out  that  it  was 
Edinger's  abandonment  of  his  head-gate  plan  that  had  brought 


on  the  debacle.  To  his  delight  Randolph  ordered  him  to  proceed 
with  his  head  gate. 

The  veteran  river  fighter  promptly  dropped  his  office  chores 
and  threw  himself  wholeheartedly  into  the  new  construction.  In 
mid-December  1905,  after  hurriedly  gathering  men  and  equip- 
ment, he  broke  ground  for  his  gate  in  a  proposed  by-pass  just 
north  of  the  canal  opening.  When  this  was  completed  he  meant 
to  build  a  rock-fill  dam  across  the  canal  itself  to  divert  the  Colo- 
rado through  the  by-pass  and  its  controlling  gate.  But  Rockwood 
knew  he  must  hasten;  the  entire  process  must  be  completed  be- 
fore the  Colorado's  spring  floods  arrived  to  throw  too  great  a 
strain  on  the  head  gate. 

Work  therefore  proceeded  at  a  furious  pace.  In  the  by-pass  his 
crewmen  laid  a  great  wooden  platform,  upon  which  a  row  of 
massive  A-shaped  frames — the  backbone  of  the  gate — gradually 
took  shape.  Yet  in  spite  of  night  and  day  shifts,  Rockwood  found 
construction  falling  behind  schedule.  Early  in  April  1906  the 
gate  was  complete  enough  to  allow  the  river  to  be  diverted 
through  it;  but  before  he  could  begin  dumping  rock  for  his 
diversion  dam  across  the  canal  Rockwood  saw  the  Colorado  rising 
once  more.  The  annual  spring  flood  had  caught  up  with  him — 
just  soon  enough  to  prevent  operation  of  the  gate.  Already  twice 
as  much  water  was  rushing  through  the  canal  as  the  head  gate 
was  built  to  control.  There  was  nothing  to  do  but  wait  for  weeks 
while  the  flood  raged  on  and  then  subsided.  Once  again  the 
relentless  Colorado  had  thwarted  its  would-be  captors. 

Still  Rockwood  knew  that  this  delay  was  inviting  disaster. 
Even  now  the  silt-laden  waters  were  gouging  out  the  banks  of  the 
crevasse,  widening  it  to  half  a  mile.  From  the  delta  country  came 
word  that  the  river  was  already  overflowing  the  canal  banks 
and  spreading  over  the  land.  The  inland  body  known  as  Volcano 
Lake  was  filled  competely,  with  the  surplus  spilling  northward 
to  the  border.  Mexican  families,  homeless  and  bewildered,  were 
fleeing  before  the  blanket  of  water. 

Rockwood  had  spent  practically  all  of  the  $200,000  advanced 
by  Harriman  of  the  S.P.,  and  the  situation  was  more  alarming 
than  ever.  The  only  remaining  hope  was  that  the  financier  could 
be  induced  to  cast  aside  the  rules  of  business  and  throw  more  good 
money  after  bad. 


But  on  April  18,  1906,  disaster  struck  in  another  quarter. 
The  earthquake  on  that  fateful  day  was  scarcely  felt  in  Imperial 
Valley,  but  from  the  north  came  ugly  word  of  catastrophe.  San 
Francisco,  standing  in  the  path  of  the  San  Andreas  Fault,  was 
shattered  and  set  afire.  For  the  men  fighting  the  river  below  the 
border  the  main  tragedy  was  the  demolition  of  this  heart  of 
the  Southern  Pacific  rail  system.  Traffic  was  paralyzed;  trains 
were  backed  up  to  Cheyenne  in  one  direction,  to  Los  Angeles  in 
another.  Harriman  and  Randolph  both  hurried  to  the  bay  to  take 
personal  charge.  In  the  face  of  this  tragedy,  further  Southern 
Pacific  help  in  fighting  the  river  now  seemed  a  forlorn  hope. 

But  Harriman,  having  tackled  the  Colorado,  was  not  inclined 
to  retreat.  With  all  San  Francisco  prostrate  about  him,  with  his 
rail  system  taxed  to  the  limit  in  rescue  work,  Harriman  yet 
remembered  Imperial  Valley.  Before  the  end  of  April  he  gave 
$250,000  to  stop  the  break  in  the  Colorado  River.  Behind  that 
was  as  much  more  as  was  needed. 

Even  with  Harriman's  help  there  was  no  hope  of  stopping  the 
river  until  the  spring  flood  subsided.  One  of  the  highest  annual 
rises  in  the  river's  history  was  pouring  headlong  into  Imperial 
Valley;  now  it  was  the  settlers'  turn  to  fight  the  monster  and 
protect  their  homes  and  crops. 

Out  of  the  delta  country  below  the  border  the  floodwaters 
came  hurtling  into  the  valley  through  two  ancient  channels — the 
New  River  and  the  Alamo.  At  the  north  end  the  Salton  Sea  was 
rising  seven  inches  a  day,  placing  a  salt  refining  works  sixty  feet 
under  water  by  June  1 906.  Time  after  time  the  Southern  Pacific 
found  its  tracks  awash  and  hurriedly  moved  them  to  higher 
ground.  Below  the  border  its  Mexican  line  was  completely  sub- 
merged for  miles. 

All  at  once  the  valley  people  discovered  a  new  threat  from 
the  treacherous  Colorado.  As  its  volume  rose  to  70,000,  then 
100,000  second-feet,  it  began  to  gouge  out  more  elbow  room  in 
the  channels.  At  every  bend  the  silt-laden  current  struck  angrily 
against  the  banks,  undermining  whole  blocks  of  soft  earth  which 
cracked  off  and  plunged  into  the  roaring  current. 

Worse  still,  the  flood  in  New  River  began  to  scour  deeper  into 
the  bed  itself.  Starting  at  its  mouth  in  Salton  Sea,  a  cataract  was 
formed  in  the  stream  bottom  where  the  muddy  water  gouged  into 


the  silt.  The  cutting  action  against  the  lip  of  the  waterfall  forced 
it  to  move  steadily  backward  and  upstream,  toward  the  Imperial 
farm  settlements  and  border  towns.  Within  a  few  days  the  cataract 
grew  to  twenty  feet  in  height,  at  the  same  time  widening  the 
channel  to  massive  proportions.  If  it  reached  the  regular  Colo- 
rado channel  at  the  Mexican  break,  all  hope  of  damming  the 
madcap  river  would  be  lost. 

Over  on  the  Alamo  channel  the  same  appalling  phenomenon 
had  occurred.  A  waterfall  was  cutting  southward  at  more  than 
half  a  mile  a  day,  and  by  early  June  was  bearing  down  on  the 
Southern  Pacific  railroad  bridge  east  of  Brawley  on  the  Los 
Angeles  line — the  only  remaining  route  out  of  the  valley.  Fran- 
tically the  Imperial  farmers  turned  to  their  ripening  cantaloupe 
crops.  If  that  destructive  cataract  destroyed  the  trestle  before  the 
melons  could  be  harvested  and  shipped,  financial  ruin  would  be 
added  to  the  threat  of  inundation.  On  June  14,  1906,  with  the 
Alamo  falls  scarcely  a  day  away  from  the  bridge,  every  farm 
family  in  central  Imperial  Valley  was  in  the  field  stripping  the 
cantaloupe  vines.  From  all  directions  a  stream  of  wagons  trundled 
into  the  railway  station  at  Brawley,  where  busy  packers  loaded 
the  melons  into  crates  and  filled  the  waiting  boxcars.  Next  day, 
after  working  through  a  sleepless  night,  the  people  saw  the  last 
trainload  pull  out  for  the  Alamo  crossing.  The  cataract  had 
reached  the  bridge,  but  Southern  Pacific  crewmen  had  braced  it 
enough  to  stand  the  strain.  Cautiously  the  final  cars  were  shuttled 
over  the  torrent  and  sent  safely  northward  to  the  Los  Angeles 

Farther  south  toward  the  Mexican  break  the  rising  floodwaters 
were  even  more  threatening.  Near  El  Centro  the  torrent  broke 
through  the  levee  of  the  Central  Main  Canal,  putting  the  streets 
of  Imperial  town  under  water  and  drowning  out  the  surrounding 
farmlands.  Here  again  every  family  turned  out — this  time  to  fight 
the  water  itself.  Crews  of  desperate  men,  working  feverishly  to 
dam  the  flood,  threw  sandbags  and  brush  mattresses  into  the 
breach.  When  gunny  sacks  gave  out,  local  merchants  emptied 
flour  and  grain  bags,  and  housewives  sewed  more  out  of  any  cloth 
available.  After  three  days  of  battle  they  plugged  the  gap,  forced 
the  angry  current  back  down  the  canal,  and  rescued  most  of  the 
nearby  farms. 


At  the  border,  where  New  River  ran  through  the  edge  of  Ca- 
lexico  and  Mexicali,  the  monster  was  taking  worse  toll.  With  the 
river  undercutting  its  banks  and  widening  by  the  hour,  it  was 
soon  threatening  to  engulf  the  very  buildings  of  the  towns.  In 
Calexico  the  people  threw  up  a  sandbag  levee  and  fought  to  main- 
tain it  against  the  flood.  But  in  neighboring  Mexicali,  located  on 
the  very  banks  of  the  river,  native  families  were  already  fleeing 
before  the  waters.  By  the  last  of  June  house  after  house  was  top- 
pling into  the  current.  As  it  undercut  the  banks,  great  chunks 
of  the  soft  ground  broke  off,  carrying  with  them  whatever  struc- 
tures they  supported.  Larger  buildings  were  first  undermined 
gradually,  then,  after  teetering  on  the  brink,  would  be  shocked 
by  a  heavy  wave  and  sent  thundering  into  the  maelstrom. 

After  the  first  excitement  the  townspeople  turned  to  watch  the 
river's  advance  with  philosophical  abandon.  Standing  near  the 
edge  of  the  bank,  their  view  almost  obscured  by  clouds  of  dust 
rising  from  the  crash  of  earth,  they  watched  with  fascination 
while  the  brown  serpent  slowly  devoured  Mexicali. 

With  the  Southern  Pacific  depot  threatened,  engineer  Jack 
Carrillo  hurried  up  from  his  losing  fight  to  protect  company 
tracks  below  the  border;  his  first  sight  of  the  situation  told  him 
no  human  effort  could  save  the  town  so  long  as  the  flood  raged. 
From  Los  Angeles  came  H.  V.  Platt,  general  superintendent  of 
S.P.  lines  from  the  coast  to  El  Paso.  Debarking  at  Galexico,  he 
strode  across  the  line  to  find  Carrillo  lounging  in  the  shade  of  an 
adobe  wall,  joining  the  rest  of  Mexicali  in  cool  resignation.  His 
nonchalance,  even  while  the  S.P.  freight  station  was  being  under- 
mined, infuriated  the  officious  Platt. 

"What  the  devil  are  you  doing  to  stop  this?"  he  demanded 

Carrillo  lit  a  cigarette  before  answering.  "Not  a  God  damn 
thing.  What  do  you  suggest?" 

A  few  moments  later,  while  the  S.P.  superintendent  watched 
helplessly,  the  building  crumpled  and  slid  over  the  bank.  With 
a  roar  and  a  shower  of  water  it  struck  the  surface  and  floated 
onward  in  pieces.  The  Southern  Pacific  officially  surrendered  to 
the  inevitable. 

Farther  down  New  River,  crews  of  men  were  dynamiting  the 
cataract  which  was  cutting  its  way  upstream  in  the  bed  of  the 


channel.  If  this  process  of  deepening  the  walls  of  the  river  could 
be  accelerated,  the  cutback  might  reach  Calexico  in  time  to  lower 
the  level  of  the  floodwaters  and  save  the  town.  Into  the  turgid 
stream  they  would  send  a  boat,  from  which  dynamite  charges 
were  planted  and  exploded  upstream  from  the  waterfall.  Whole 
blocks  of  earth  broke  up  and  toppled  forward,  causing  the  cut- 
back to  move  upstream  at  a  hurried  pace. 

The  people  of  the  border  towns  waited  expectantly  for  the 
approaching  cataract,  while  the  flood  continued  to  engulf  Mexi- 
cali.  A  brick  hotel  followed  the  railroad  station  into  the  current. 
Thousands  of  acres  of  nearby  farmlands  were  destroyed.  Early 
in  July,  with  the  waters  lapping  at  the  S.P.  depot  on  the  Ameri- 
can side  in  Calexico,  the  cutback  roared  past  the  town.  The  flood 
tide  dropped  fifty  feet  into  the  chasm  it  created,  and  as  the  cata- 
ract pressed  onward  upstream,  the  cutting  of  the  banks  ceased. 
More  than  half  of  Mexicali,  and  practically  all  of  Calexico,  were 

Now  the  immediate  problem  was  to  stop  the  cataract  itself, 
before  it  reached  the  break  in  the  Colorado  and  destroyed  any 
chance  of  stopping  the  flood.  In  the  delta  swamps  of  Lower 
California  the  crews  worked  furiously  to  curb  the  same  cutback 
they  had  been  trying  to  hasten.  Brush  dams  were  thrown  in  the 
path  of  the  waterfall;  at  first  it  merely  swallowed  them  and 
thundered  onward.  At  last  the  river  fighters  broke  the  single 
channel  into  smaller  fingers,  and  one  by  one  succeeded  in  stop- 
ping each  cutback  with  brush  weirs.  Once  again  man  had  beaten 
the  river,  but  not  before  it  had  lowered  its  bed  by  many  feet,  left 
thousands  of  farm  acres  without  hope  of  water,  and  devastated 
thousands  more  by  flood. 

The  raging  Colorado,  pouring  its  full  flow  into  the  Salton  Sea, 
still  hung  as  a  threat  over  Imperial's  very  life.  At  the  first  sign 
that  the  flood  crest  had  passed,  the  Southern  Pacific  moved  once 
more  to  dam  the  Mexican  break.  Charles  Rockwood,  whose  blun- 
dering cut  had  first  brought  on  this  calamity,  had  resigned  as 
engineer  in  charge  when  the  1906  flood  had  begun  to  rise  in 
April.  Epes  Randolph,  president  of  the  C.  D.  Company,  then 
sent  for  Harry  T.  Cory,  one  of  the  crack  construction  engineers 
for  the  Southern  Pacific.  A  Midwestern  college  professor  while 
still  in  his  early  twenties,  young  Cory  had  made  a  brilliant  name 

for  himself  in  active  railroad  engineering.  He  brought  to  the 
Colorado  fight  the  rare  combination  of  painstaking  theoretical 
planning  and  bold  leadership  on  the  ground.  Having  already  seen 
the  Mexican  break  on  several  inspection  trips,  Cory  was  thor- 
oughly acquainted  with  the  situation  when  Randolph  called  him 
to  his  Tucson  office  and  placed  him  in  charge.  Before  he  left, 
Cory  remembered  the  question  of  finances. 

"The  expense,"  he  inquired.  "How  far  can  I  go?" 

"Damn  the  expense!"  roared  Randolph,  who  commanded  al- 
most unlimited  S.P.  funds.  "Just  stop  that  river!" 

Cory  returned  to  the  Mexican  break  in  July  1 906  and  immedi- 
ately stirred  the  camp  into  action.  First  a  nine-mile  branch  of  the 
Southern  Pacific  line  was  built  by  Jack  Carrillo,  chief  of  railroad 
operations,  to  provide  a  reliable  line  of  supplies  to  the  break. 
Blasting  was  begun  at  the  quarry  near  Pilot  Knob  to  supply  rocks 
for  the  dam  construction.  From  the  Union  Pacific,  another  Harri- 
man  line,  Cory  borrowed  three  hundred  special  dumping  cars 
known  as  battleships.  Faced  with  a  labor  shortage,  the  engineer 
recruited  a  small  army  of  Indian  laborers  from  half  a  dozen 
desert  tribes,  who  soon  proved  themselves  the  only  humans  capa- 
ble of  such  strenuous  work  in  midsummer  heat. 

On  August  6,  1906,  when  the  Colorado  flood  receded  to  a 
mild  24,000  second-feet,  Cory  opened  his  attack.  Across  the  cur- 
rent, now  narrowed  to  a  maximum  of  seven  hundred  feet,  he 
began  building  a  wooden  railroad  trestle.  Two  pile  drivers  worked 
from  opposite  banks  toward  midstream,  pounding  in  ninety-foot 
logs  as  fast  as  Carrillo's  locomotives  could  supply  them.  Ahead 
of  each  driver  floated  a  barge  from  which  gangs  of  Indians  laid 
a  brush  mattress  in  the  current  as  a  foundation  for  the  poles.  A 
pair  of  single-stacked,  stern-wheel  steamboats,  the  Searchlight 
and  the  St.  V oilier,  churned  up  and  down  the  canal  bringing 
piles  of  fresh-cut  arrowweed  and  willow  brush  for  the  Indian 
mattress  weavers.  Through  this  pandemonium  the  Colorado 
flowed  quietly  on,  apparently  unaware  that  man  was  laying  a 
trap  to  end  its  yearlong  spree  in  Imperial  Valley. 

At  the  same  time  Cory  was  strengthening  Rockwood's  massive 
head  gate,  which  had  lain  unused  in  the  proposed  by-pass  north 
of  the  crevasse.  Largest  gate  of  its  type  in  the  world,  it  was  de- 
signed to  permit  a  regulated  flow  into  the  canal  after  the  trestle 


dam  was  finished.  The  farmers  of  Imperial,  having  watched  the 
entire  Colorado  pouring  in  upon  them  for  so  many  months, 
would  find  their  very  existence  cut  off  were  the  flow  stopped 

In  mid-August  the  railroad  trestle  completely  spanned  the 
channel.  Long  lines  of  battleships,  laden  with  granite  boulders, 
rumbled  past  Rockwood's  gate  and  onto  the  trestle.  Directing  the 
rock  dumping  was  lean,  hard-bitten  Tom  Hind,  Cory's  engineer 
in  charge  of  construction.  Under  his  orders  the  cars  were  arrayed 
on  the  trestle  like  a  firing  line.  Into  the  brown  current  on  the 
upstream  side  the  great  boulders  were  dumped  by  straining  men 
with  crowbars.  With  each  new  attack  the  pilings  trembled  and 
the  river  sent  sprays  of  water  over  the  workmen,  sometimes  damp- 
ening the  fireboxes  of  the  locomotives. 

Night  and  day  the  work  went  on,  with  Hind's  crews  fighting 
to  dump  rock  faster  than  the  river  could  carry  it  away.  At  length 
the  great  submerged  dam  began  to  raise  the  level  of  the  current; 
foot  by  foot,  while  the  thunder  and  tumult  of  the  rock  barrage 
gave  the  scene  an  air  of  battle,  Tom  Hind's  dam  reared  upward 
under  the  trestle's  feet. 

By  the  end  of  summer  the  trap  was  almost  ready  to  be  sprung. 
Still  no  one  knew  whether  Rockwood's  gate  would  hold  against 
the  Colorado's  force.  The  flow  had  scarcely  dropped  to  the  top 
capacity  of  the  gate,  and  might  vary  widely  from  day  to  day. 
Cory,  however,  could  not  afford  to  wait.  The  entire  process  of 
capturing  the  river  in  the  gate  and  diverting  it  back  toward  the 
gulf  must  be  finished  before  the  Gila  River  rose  in  one  of  its 
rampaging  fall  floods. 

Late  in  September  he  cut  open  the  mouth  of  the  by-pass  and 
turned  the  river  through  the  Rockwood  gate.  But  before  he  could 
prevent  it  the  sides  and  bottom  of  the  giant  structure  began  to 
erode  away.  Quickly  he  built  another  trestle  across  the  by-pass  a 
few  yards  upstream  from  the  gate,  making  ready  to  dump  rock 
and  dam  this  final  channel  if  the  head  gate  weakened. 

On  the  morning  of  October  n  the  driftwood  accumulating 
against  the  new  trestle  suddenly  battered  out  two  rows  of  pilings. 
The  tracks  sagged  and  toppled  several  cars  off  the  bridge.  Three 
hours  later  the  lashing  of  the  torrent  and  debris  buckled  the 
Rockwood  gate.  With  a  great  crashing  and  splintering  the  mam- 


moth  structure  uprooted  itself  and  rose  with  the  current.  While 
Cory  and  his  men  watched  aghast,  two  thirds  of  it  broke  loose 
and  swung  ponderously  downstream. 

Within  two  hundred  feet  it  struck  against  the  original  trestle 
which  crossed  the  by-pass  on  its  way  to  the  dam.  A  work  train 
stood  south  of  the  trestle  at  the  time,  its  line  of  retreat  imperiled 
by  the  battering  of  the  head  gate.  With  whistle  screaming  and 
throttle  jammed  forward,  the  doughty  engineer  took  the  long 
chance.  His  cars  thundered  over  the  trestle  to  the  north  side 
just  before  it  collapsed  into  the  maelstrom. 

With  all  control  of  the  by-pass  gone,  the  entire  Colorado 
promptly  deserted  the  submerged  dam  and  swung  full  force 
through  the  gap,  scouring  out  a  complete  channel  for  itself.  The 
top  of  the  dam,  over  which  several  feet  of  water  had  been  pass- 
ing, now  stood  entirely  dry.  Once  again  the  brown  serpent  had 
slithered  out  of  man's  grasp.  The  work  of  months  had  been 
destroyed  by  the  diabolical  Colorado  in  a  few  minutes'  time. 

Epes  Randolph  came  down  from  Tucson  and  surveyed  the 
wreckage.  Joining  him  on  the  banks  of  the  angry  torrent,  Harry 
Cory  vented  his  exasperation. 

"Let's  quit  fooling  with  gates,"  he  shouted  against  the  roar. 
"What  this  feller  needs  is  rock,  and  more  rock,  and  more  rock." 

Randolph  and  Cory  inspected  the  rock  barrier  across  the  old 
canal  mouth,  and  found  it  staunch  and  solid.  In  nineteen  months 
of  battling  the  river  this  trestle-and-rock  method  had  alone  proved 
successful.  There  was  nothing  to  do  but  follow  Cory's  plan.  The 
river  would  be  dammed  without  a  head  gate,  and  the  farmers  of 
Imperial  might  lose  their  precious  water.  Still  there  was  a  possi- 
bility of  opening  up  the  silted  four-mile  channel  from  the  original 
Chaffey  gate  on  American  soil,  where  the  railroad  had  recently 
installed  a  new  concrete  intake.  The  river  tamers  resolved  to 
blast  open  this  choked  canal  with  dynamite,  and  close  the  lower 
heading  forever.  To  the  people  of  the  Southwest,  awaiting  the 
verdict  of  these  men,  Randolph  made  a  public  statement  before 
returning  to  Tucson. 

"The  collapse  of  the  wooden  head  gate,"  he  told  the  press, 
"does  not  mean  that  the  company  will  fail  to  control  the  river. 
It  merely  means  a  delay." 

Quickly  Harry  Cory  flung  himself  and  his  organization  back 


into  the  battle.  They  must  make  haste,  for  if  the  Gila  loosed  one 
of  its  floods  before  the  dam  was  finished,  the  entire  works  would 
again  be  swept  away. 

This  time  laborers  were  recruited  throughout  the  desert  coun- 
try, and  a  thousand  men  were  turned  against  the  river.  Six  work 
trains  were  soon  shuttling  over  the  spur  tracks,  bringing  tons  of 
materials  for  the  fight.  First  Cory  repaired  the  damaged  trestle 
below  the  site  of  Rockwood's  gate,  and  sent  another  out  into  the 
channel  beside  it.  Four  thudding  pile  drivers,  working  from  both 
sides  toward  the  middle,  pounded  poles  through  the  brush  mat- 
tresses laid  in  the  stream  by  Indian  crews.  Even  by  night,  while 
a  string  of  lanterns  spanned  the  channel,  men  and  machines 
grappled  with  the  torrent  in  midstream. 

Late  in  October  the  two  railroad  trestles  were  finished  across 
the  channel.  Immediately  Hind  began  dumping  rock  in  the  space 
between  them  as  fast  as  trains  could  arrive  from  the  quarries. 
Boulders  too  big  to  be  rolled  off  the  cars  were  broken  up  with 
"shots"  of  dynamite.  Rock  was  soon  raining  into  the  stream  at 
the  rate  of  a  carload  every  five  minutes. 

The  angry  current,  unable  to  wash  away  the  barrier  faster  than 
it  was  built,  slid  over  its  top  and  passed  on.  Harry  Cory  knew 
from  his  calculations  the  exact  number  of  days  required  to  lift 
the  river  to  the  level  of  the  old  channel,  thus  sending  it  once 
more  on  its  way  to  the  Gulf  of  California. 

By  October  29  ninety  per  cent  of  the  flow  had  been  diverted 
back  to  the  original  Colorado  bed.  Six  more  days  of  continual 
rock  dumping  brought  almost  the  whole  length  of  the  dam  to  the 
level  of  the  main  Colorado's  surface.  All  night  long  on  November 
3  the  rock  crews  fought  against  the  river's  final  throes.  Just  at 
dawn  someone  paused  enough  to  notice  a  change  in  the  stream. 

"Look!"  he  shouted.  "The  water  has  stopped  rising.  The  river 
is  stationary!" 

The  frustrated  waters  were  indeed  swirling  back  into  the  an- 
cient channel,  their  eighteen-month  spree  at  an  end.  For  the  rest 
of  the  morning,  under  the  insistence  of  Hind  and  Cory,  the  river 
fighters  toiled  on  to  pack  the  dam  and  insure  their  victory.  By 
noon  the  cautious  engineers  announced  to  the  men  that  the  battle 
was  won.  Then  from  one  end  of  the  trestles  to  the  other  rolled 
a  long,  heroic  cheer.  Epes  Randolph,  on  hand  to  witness  the 
triumph,  promptly  wired  a  sober  report  to  Los  Angeles. 


"The  channel  leading  to  Salton  Sea  is  closed.  .  .  .  The  old 
channel  is  carrying  the  normal  flow  to  the  gulf." 

All  Southern  California,  which  had  stood  by  in  helpless  con- 
cern for  eighteen  months  while  the  Colorado  threatened  its  lower 
valley,  now  turned  to  its  regular  cares  with  relief.  The  farmers 
of  Imperial  rejoiced,  with  hearty  words  for  the  Southern  Pacific. 
Even  while  permanently  closing  the  break,  the  company  was  also 
blasting  out  the  silted  portion  of  the  original  Chaffey  canal.  By 
early  December  it  was  bringing  in  water  through  the  new  con- 
crete head  gate  north  of  the  border.  Not  a  crop  in  the  valley  was 
lost  for  lack  of  water  that  season. 

The  menace  of  flood  remained,  but  this  was  fast  being  curbed 
by  mop-up  work  under  Cory's  direction.  For  three  weeks  his  mule 
teams  and  scrapers,  rail  cars  and  dredges,  made  the  dirt  fly  along 
the  Colorado's  banks.  Gravel  and  clay  were  poured  into  the  cracks 
of  the  rock  dam  and  dampened  with  fire  hoses.  On  both  sides  of 
the  former  break,  for  nine  miles  paralleling  the  river,  the  great 
earth  levees  were  extended  to  hold  the  waters  at  the  next  flood. 

The  river  tamers  had  not  long  to  wait  for  the  test.  Cory  and 
Hind  were  in  Yuma  when  a  sudden  Arizona  cloudburst  filled  the 
arms  of  the  Gila.  On  December  5,  1906,  the  Colorado  rose  from 
9000  second-feet  to  a  raging  45,000  below  the  Gila's  mouth.  It 
swirled  down  the  channel  toward  the  gulf,  licking  at  the  banks 
of  Cory's  levees  as  it  passed.  Close  behind  came  the  alarmed  engi- 
neers, leaving  Yuma  on  an  early  morning  work  train  and  reach- 
ing the  lower  Mexican  heading  before  dawn.  A  quarter  mile 
south  of  Tom  Hind's  dam  they  found  three  new  breaks  in  the 
levee.  To  their  utter  dismay  they  realized  that  one  was  already 
beyond  control.  The  brown  monster  was  eating  its  way  through 
the  banks,  and  at  any  moment  would  completely  bisect  the  levee 
and  its  railroad  tracks. 

Remembering  the  grading  crew  still  working  on  the  defenses 
several  miles  to  the  south,  Cory  sent  the  steamboat  Searchlight 
chugging  down  the  river  to  rescue  them  before  the  shifting  Colo- 
rado left  them  stranded.  The  chubby  stern-wheeler  had  picked 
up  the  men  and  was  steaming  up  the  tree-lined  channel  when 
the  flood  suddenly  ran  dry.  To  the  northward,  where  the  anxious 
engineers  watched  from  the  banks,  the  river  had  elbowed  out  a 
wide  crevasse  and  was  pouring  headlong  back  into  the  Imperial 


Canal.  The  frustrated  Searchlight  was  abandoned  in  the  dry 
channel — an  incongruous  creature  in  the  midst  of  the  barren 
Colorado  Desert. 

Once  again  the  mighty  river  was  hurtling  downhill  toward 
Volcano  Lake,  New  River,  and  its  inland  prison,  the  Salton  Sea. 
Cory  and  his  engineers  stood  by  in  helpless  fury — with  $1,500,000 
and  the  work  of  months  swept  away  in  twenty-four  hours.  "The 
battle  is  on  once  more,"  wired  a  correspondent  of  the  Los  Angeles 

This  time  the  break-through  proved  to  most  observers  that  the 
Colorado  had,  in  the  course  of  centuries,  reached  the  stage  of 
leaving  the  gulf  once  more  and  swinging  north  into  the  dead  sea 
its  delta  had  created.  The  inevitable  process  had  merely  been 
hastened  by  Rockwood's  original  Mexican  cut.  For  the  first  time 
the  engineers  realized  the  full  magnitude  of  the  geological  forces 
they  had  been  fighting.  The  menace  of  the  river,  now  made  more 
threatening  with  each  passing  year,  could  not  be  left  to  the  paper 
protection  of  the  C.  D.  Company's  sand  levees.  Nothing  less  than 
twenty  miles  of  rock  dams  packed  tight  with  clay  and  gravel 
would  safely  control  it — perhaps. 

Cory  could  do  nothing  immediately;  the  crews  and  equipment 
gathered  for  the  first  closure  were  now  scattered  over  the  South- 
west. Epes  Randolph,  hurrying  down  from  Tucson,  joined  him  in 
relaying  the  tragic  news  to  Harriman  in  New  York.  The  Southern 
Pacific  chief,  who  had  already  poured  a  fortune  into  the  river, 
had  reached  the  end  of  his  magnificent  patience.  He  notified  his 
lieutenants  that  this  new  break  was  not  the  responsibility  of  the 
railroad.  If  Imperial  Valley  was  to  be  saved,  the  burden  must  be 
borne  proportionately  by  other  interested  parties,  including  the 
settlers  and  the  government. 

When  the  valley  people  heard  this  decision  they  gathered  in  a 
mass  meeting  at  the  town  of  Imperial  on  December  13.  The 
Southern  Pacific,  they  were  told,  would  use  its  organization  and 
equipment  to  stop  the  runaway  river  if  money  could  be  raised 
to  pay  the  bills.  The  alarmed  farmers,  facing  renewed  danger  to 
their  valley,  had  little  choice.  Before  the  conference  was  over 
nearly  a  million  dollars  had  been  subscribed  from  the  people 

On  the  same  day,  at  the  other  end  of  the  continent,  E.  H. 

Harriman  sent  a  telegram  to  the  White  House.  Describing  the 
threat  to  all  of  Imperial  Valley,  including  considerable  govern- 
ment land,  Harriman  concluded  that  "it  does  not  seem  fair  that 
we  should  be  called  to  do  more  than  join  in  to  help  the  settlers." 

For  years  Harriman  had  been  a  close  friend  of  Theodore 
Roosevelt.  Recently,  however,  the  President  had  turned  on  the 
railroad  magnate  in  his  furious  anti-trust  campaign.  Back  from 
Washington  came  a  terse  reply  to  Harriman's  telegram : 

"I  assume  you  are  planning  to  continue  work  immediately  on 
closing  break  in  Colorado  River." 

Harriman  shot  back  his  refusal,  and  for  a  week  in  mid-Decem- 
ber the  titans  fired  telegrams  at  each  other  while  the  Colorado 
rolled  on  into  the  Salton  Sea.  Cory  and  his  engineers  occupied 
the  time  in  assembling  the  vast  machinery  and  manpower  neces- 
sary for  the  job  they  knew  must  be  done.  Fifteen  hundred  laborers 
were  recruited  throughout  the  Southwest  at  top  wages.  Rock 
quarries  were  opened  as  far  away  as  five  hundred  miles.  Hun- 
dreds of  cars  were  commandeered,  and  the  line  from  Yuma  to  the 
break  was  double-tracked  under  the  direction  of  Jack  Carrillo. 
Pile  drivers  and  barges,  tents  and  commissaries  were  hastily  as- 
sembled. Tom  Hind  was  placed  in  charge  of  strengthening  the 
levee  system  on  either  side  of  the  crevasse,  while  the  actual  task 
of  closing  the  gap  was  given  to  C.  K.  Clarke,  an  experienced 
S.P.  engineer.  With  him  Cory  hastily  conferred  over  charts  and 
diagrams,  planning  to  extend  the  Hind  dam  with  two  parallel 
trestle  structures  which  would  wall  up  the  break  forever.  Then 
the  ponderous  organization  of  men  and  machines  waited  on  the 
banks  of  the  runaway  river  while  the  two  presidents  settled 
finances  in  their  "battle  of  the  telegrams." 

On  December  19,  Harriman  answered  that  he  had  already 
thrown  in  $2,000,000  and  did  not  feel  justified  in  spending  more. 
After  conferring  hastily  with  Washington  officials,  Roosevelt 
wired  back  that  nothing  could  be  done  by  the  government  with- 
out an  agreement  with  Mexico  and  an  act  of  Congress. 

"Incumbent  upon  you  to  close  break  again,"  he  pleaded. 

Harriman  wearily  answered  that  the  S.P.  was  not  responsible 
for  the  debacle.  "However,"  he  added,  "in  view  of  your  message 
I  am  giving  authority  to  the  Southern  Pacific  engineers  in  the 
West  to  proceed  at  once  with  efforts  to  repair  the  break.  ..." 


"Am  delighted  to  receive  your  telegram,"  sent  back  Teddy, 
promising  to  urge  financial  aid  from  Congress.  On  the  same  day 
Harriman  flashed  the  long-awaited  signal  to  his  staff  at  the 
front:  "Turn  the  river  at  all  costs!" 

Instantly  Cory's  gigantic  machinery  shifted  into  action.  To  a 
score  of  sidings  and  quarries  throughout  the  Southwest  he  wired 
a  single  order,  "Go!"  Waiting  wheels  began  to  turn,  and  Jack 
Carrillo's  rock  cars  rumbled  southward  for  the  Mexican  break. 
The  first  trainloads  were  dumped  in  rapid  succession  on  the  Hind 
dam,  widening  it  for  the  double-track  extension. 

Then  across  the  new  i  loo-foot  crevasse  C.  K.  Clarke  started 
his  trestle.  Pile  drivers  swung  into  motion  from  each  bank,  with 
the  lower  crewmen  supplied  by  cross-channel  barges.  They  found 
the  current  faster,  more  turbulent  than  ever  before.  But  Cory 
could  not  wait  for  the  Gila's  flood  to  subside.  If  the  spring  rise 
of  the  Colorado  caught  the  works  unfinished,  all  their  efforts  and 
expense  would  be  destroyed. 

The  slow  process  of  mattress  weaving  was  discarded,  and  the 
two  ends  of  the  trestle  inched  out  into  the  torrent  with  no  founda- 
tion but  the  sandy  bed  of  the  crevasse.  Men  fought  to  steady  each 
ninety-foot  pole  against  the  powerful  current,  while  a  creaking 
cable  hauled  the  pile  hammer  to  the  top  of  the  driver's  frame. 
Then  it  dropped  with  a  crash  that  all  but  toppled  the  rig  into 
the  river,  leaving  the  beaten  pile  quivering  like  a  bowstring.  So 
great  was  the  danger  of  overturning  the  pile  drivers  that  row- 
boats  were  stationed  downstream  to  pick  up  any  man  who  might 
slip  into  the  river. 

Three  days  after  Christmas  the  Gila  turned  itself  loose  again 
with  another  flash  flood  from  the  Arizona  mountains.  Part  of  the 
torrent  carried  past  the  break  down  the  old  Colorado  channel 
and  provided  enough  water  to  refloat  the  stranded  steamer 
Searchlight.  The  stubby  puffer  plowed  its  way  upstream  to  join 
the  river  tamers  at  the  crevasse. 

But  the  main  force  of  the  Gila's  second  freshet  had  rampaged 
through  the  break  into  the  canal.  The  last  piles  were  being  driven 
on  Cory's  trestle  when  the  debris-laden  flood  struck  it  headlong. 
Out  went  a  part  of  its  pilings ;  a  third  of  the  trestle  sagged,  ripped 
off,  and  disappeared  down  the  channel.  Laboriously  the  crew  set 
about  to  mend  the  broken  ends  as  soon  as  the  flood  began  to 


subside.  Into  the  brown  current  the  pile  drivers  pounded  their 
shafts  once  more. 

But  in  the  first  weeks  of  January  1907  the  Gila  continued  to 
pour  a  battering  ram  into  the  crevasse  with  every  desert  cloud- 
burst. It  was  one  of  the  wettest  winters  on  record  in  the  South- 
west, and  Cory's  weary  workers  were  getting  the  brunt  of  it  on 
their  backs.  Twice  more,  when  the  trestle  was  nearly  finished, 
a  Gila  freshet  roared  into  the  break  and  tore  part  of  it  away. 
Gory  was  using  up  pilings  so  fast  that  a  frantic  telegram  finally 
reached  him  from  S.P.  headquarters: 

"We  have  exhausted  all  available  supply  of  piles  in  San  Diego 
and  Southern  California." 

Yet  by  mid-January  1907  the  trestle  was  nearly  finished  for 
the  fourth  time,  with  enough  piles  on  hand  to  complete  it.  Epes 
Randolph  was  on  the  scene  with  Cory,  watching  his  men  struggle 
to  place  the  last  of  the  poles  in  thirty  feet  of  rushing  water.  The 
two  engineers  hoped  desperately  that  the  current  would  recede 
before  the  time  came  for  rock  dumping.  Otherwise,  they  feared 
they  could  not  pour  rock  and  gravel  into  the  river  faster  than  it 
would  be  washed  away.  But  on  the  twentieth  their  telegraph 
operator  took  a  message  from  Arizona:  "Gila  is  rising."  Ran- 
dolph turned  away  in  resignation;  it  seemed  that  the  fates  and 
the  Gila  were  conspiring  against  them. 

"No  rock  dumping  until  next  week,"  he  calmly  announced. 

Through  the  fourth  week  in  January  his  crewmen  watched 
the  flood  roll  by,  sometimes  fighting  to  clear  the  driftwood  as  it 
lodged  against  the  trestle.  At  length  the  current  subsided  with 
the  works  still  intact.  By  the  twenty-seventh  the1  last  poles  were 
in  place  and  the  first  trestle  was  completed. 

Before  nightfall,  with  the  screeching  of  whistles  and  the  chug- 
ging of  locomotives,  Jack  Carrillo  moved  his  rock  cars  into  the 
attack.  From  quarries  throughout  the  Southwest  they  rumbled 
over  S.P.  rails  with  only  a  few  minutes'  headway  between  them. 
Until  the  break  should  be  closed,  Harriman  had  placed  his  com- 
pany's entire  freight  system  at  Cory's  disposal.  Both  the  Santa  Fe 
and  the  new  Salt  Lake  Railroad  curtailed  regular  shipments  to 
send  rock  cargoes  from  quarries  along  their  routes.  So  much  rock- 
dumping  equipment  was  borrowed  from  the  new  Los  Angeles 
harbor,  then  being  built  at  San  Pedro,  that  construction  there 

was  practically  halted  for  several  weeks.  Along  transcontinental 
routes  crossing  the  Southwest,  freight  and  passenger  traffic  was 
shunted  into  sidings  to  make  way  for  the  strange  and  hurried 
procession  of  rock  cars.  Never  in  railroad  history  has  so  great  a 
cargo  been  delivered  at  one  point  in  so  short  a  time. 

Below  the  border  on  Cory's  battlefield  an  army  of  workers  was 
flinging  this  ammunition  into  the  river  as  fast  as  it  arrived.  While 
rock  dumping  began  on  the  first  trestle,  the  second  was  com- 
pleted alongside  it.  Henceforth  whole  trainloads  of  battleships 
rattled  over  both  trestles  continuously,  night  and  day.  At  the 
signal  of  whistles  their  cargoes  of  boulders  crashed  into  the  swirl- 
ing waters,  sending  fountains  of  spray  over  the  cars  down  the 
length  of  the  trestle.  Against  the  battle's  roar  rose  a  cannonading 
of  dynamite  shots  which  broke  the  rocks  too  big  to  handle.  From 
nearby  banks  or  from  the  engine's  cab  Cory  and  Clarke  shouted 
their  orders  above  the  din. 

Within  three  days  the  rock  barrier  showed  itself  above  the  sur- 
face, forcing  the  water  to  cascade  over  the  top  and  down  the 
rock  embankment  on  the  other  side.  As  the  bombardment  con- 
tinued the  level  rose  perceptibly.  A  small  part  of  the  current 
found  its  way  back  down  the  old  Colorado  channel.  Gravel  and 
clay  from  nearby  quarries  were  then  poured  on  the  rocks  to  plug 
the  cracks.  According  to  Cory's  calculations,  the  river  would  be 
completely  turned  when  it  had  been  lifted  eleven  feet. 

But  the  monster  bared  its  teeth  once  more  before  it  would 
submit.  By  February  2,  1907,  the  irrepressible  Gila  was  rising  in 
still  another  flood.  On  the  crest  of  its  first  waves  rode  the  usual 
cargo  of  heavy  driftwood.  It  charged  into  the  crevasse  and  piled 
against  Cory's  first  trestle,  taking  out  three  rows  of  piles.  The 
rock  barrier  then  gave  way  and  battered  against  the  second 
trestle.  Its  pilings  held  firm,  but  the  entire  structure  soon  bent 
out  of  shape  with  the  river's  full  force  pouring  through  the  gap. 

Cory  rushed  his  pile  drivers  into  position  and  began  pounding 
logs  into  the  first  trestle.  All  night  long  they  fought  the  river,  one 
gang  breaking  up  the  driftwood  with  poles  while  another  drove 
in  the  pilings.  Then  they  dumped  rock  as  fast  as  puffing  loco- 
motives could  deliver  it.  By  morning  the  rock  barrier  was  re- 
stored. The  Gila  dropped  its  flood  level  and  the  danger  faded. 
But  in  the  railroad  tracks  along  the  second  trestle  an  unmistak- 


able  kink  still  revealed  the  spot  where  the  Colorado  had  made  its 
last  stand. 

For  the  next  eight  days  and  nights  the  rock  pouring  was  almost 
ceaseless.  Having  nearly  lost  his  dam  in  the  teeth  of  the  runaway 
river,  Cory  was  hurrying  to  bridle  it  before  it  could  snort  and 
rear  again.  By  February  10,  with  the  Colorado's  level  raised  over 
ten  feet  and  most  of  the  flow  already  diverted  to  the  original 
stream,  the  assault  reached  a  furious  crescendo.  That  night  at 
eleven  o'clock  the  wearied  men  stopped  the  last  remnants  of  the 
river.  The  Imperial  Canal  was  dry,  and  the  entire  flow  was  cours- 
ing down  its  ancient  channel  to  the  Pacific  Ocean.  For  the  second 
time  Harry  Cory  and  the  Southern  Pacific  had  beaten  the  Colo- 

There  was  still  no  time  for  celebrating.  The  grim  engine'er, 
intent  on  nailing  down  the  river  for  good,  kept  his  shifts  coming 
on  the  job  and  pouring  rock.  By  late  afternoon  of  the  next  day 
Cory  was  certain  enough  to  announce  that  the  break  had  been 
closed.  Randolph  and  a  party  of  engineers  rode  the  steamer 
Searchlight  for  several  miles  up  and  down  the  river,  returning 
to  report  that  it  was  veering  to  the  south  and  away  from  the 
break  all  along  the  line. 

Newspapers  throughout  the  Southwest  headlined  the  story  to 
a  relieved  public.  Across  the  nation  the  leading  publications  of 
the  day,  from  engineering  journals  to  popular  magazines,  hailed 
Cory's  feat  and  the  saving  of  1,000,000  acres  of  American  soil. 
In  rescued  Imperial  Valley  the  people  rejoiced  openly  and  prayed 
in  thanks.  On  the  same  day  of  the  final  closure  the  new  concrete 
head  gate  north  of  the  border  was  reopened  to  allow  a  continu- 
ous, controlled  flow  of  Imperial's  lifeblood  into  its  veins.  The 
empire  conceived  by  Rockwood  and  enlivened  by  George  Chaff  ey 
had  been  saved  from  self-destruction  by  Harry  T.  Cory. 

But  the  engineer  knew  this  single  victory  had  not  harnessed 
the  river.  As  long  as  the  same  sand  levees  remained  through 
which  the  creature  had  already  burst  from  under  him  once,  it 
could  not  be  trusted  for  a  moment.  For  the  next  few  months  he 
kept  his  trains  and  mule  teams  busy  along  the  river  building 
twenty  miles  of  staunch  rock  levees — extensions  of  the  dams  with 
which  he  had  stopped  the  flood. 

Even  this  obstacle,  he  knew,  was  a  precarious  expedient.  The 


mighty  Colorado  was  bent  on  revisiting  the  Salton  Sink  and  fill- 
ing it  to  its  brim — a  process  it  had  repeated  at  intervals  through 
past  ages.  Undoubtedly  the  greatest  geological  change  in  the 
world's  recorded  history  had  been  frustrated  here  by  the  hand 
of  man.  The  Colorado  would  not  submit  to  this  indignity  without 
a  sullen  intention  to  rebel. 

10:     Dividing  the  Waters 

Following  the  closing  of  the  break,  Imperial  Valley  found  itself 
living  in  uneasy  peace  during  the  Colorado's  spring  rise  of  1907. 
That  year  the  river  flung  a  record  flood  against  the  new  Southern 
Pacific  levees.  Patrols  watched  the  swollen  current  day  and  night 
as  it  rose  toward  the  top  of  the  embankments.  But  in  early  sum- 
mer it  receded,  having  given  the  new  defenses  a  thorough  test 
and  the  Imperial  settlers  another  fright. 

By  this  time,  with  the  flood  battle  ended,  Congress  was  finally 
moving  toward  action  on  the  river.  Beginning  early  in  1907, 
measures  were  repeatedly  introduced  to  provide  funds  for  gov- 
ernment levees  in  Mexico,  and  for  reimbursing  the  Southern 
Pacific  for  part  of  the  $3,000,000  which  Harriman  had  thrown 
into  the  Colorado.  But  though  the  repayment  was  urged  by  most 
of  the  California  congressmen  and  Presidents  Roosevelt  and  Taft, 
it  suffered  a  lingering  death  in  Washington.  After  four  years  the 
bill  came  out  of  a  House  committee  with  approval,  but  a  minority 
report  helped  to  kill  it  with  the  charge  that  it  was  "an  attempted 
raid  on  the  Federal  Treasury." 

Harriman  took  this  repudiation  with  philosophical  calm. 
Shortly  before  his  death  in  1909  he  made  an  inspection  trip  to 
the  Colorado  levees;  while  stopping  in  Imperial  Valley,  he  was 
interviewed  by  a  newspaperman,  who  reminded  him  of  his  unap- 
preciated efforts  in  turning  the  river. 

"Do  you  not,  under  the  circumstances,  regret  having  made  this 
large  expenditure?" 

"No,"  returned  Harriman.  "This  valley  was  worth  saving, 
wasn't  it?" 

"Yes,"  the  reporter  agreed. 


"Then  we  have  the  satisfaction  of  knowing  we  saved  it,  haven't 

By  1910  the  river  was  rampaging  once  more.  Leaving  its  old 
bed,  the  Colorado  turned  into  another  ancient  channel  on  the 
delta — Bee  River.  It  was  soon  emptying  into  Volcano  Lake,  which 
began  to  fill  and  threaten  an  overflow  northward  toward  the  val- 
ley. This  time  the  Southern  Pacific  would  take  no  hand  in  the 
fight.  New  levees  were  hastily  thrown  up  by  Imperial  farmers, 
and  pleas  for  help  were  rushed  to  President  Taft.  Congress 
quickly  appropriated  $1,000,000  for  flood  control — its  first  sign 
of  concern  over  the  destructive  powers  of  the  lower  Colorado. 

Using  the  old  S.P.  technique  of  a  trestle  and  rock  dam,  the 
government  engineers  turned  the  Colorado  once  more  and  built 
the  twenty-five-mile  Ockerson  levee  to  keep  it  in  place.  But  with 
its  very  next  flood  the  diabolical  river  knifed  through  the  govern- 
ment levee,  poured  back  into  Bee  River,  and  wiped  out  $1,000,000 
in  federal  funds.  At  least  the  river  had  no  partiality  concerning 
whose  money  it  wasted. 

By  now  Imperial  had  little  chance  of  turning  the  river  back 
into  its  old  channel.  The  most  that  could  be  hoped  was  that  it 
could  be  prevented  from  getting  any  closer  to  the  valley.  Accord- 
ingly the  settlers  built  new  levees  against  any  overflow  from  Vol- 
cano Lake,  forcing  its  excess  waters  southward  to  the  gulf. 

After  that  the  Imperial  farmers,  who  for  years  had  allowed 
the  fate  of  the  valley  to  rest  in  outside  hands,  moved  to  take  con- 
trol themselves.  In  1911  they  organized  the  Imperial  Irrigation 
District,  largest  single  agricultural  unit  in  the  world.  Ownership 
of  their  water  canal  and  protective  levees  in  Mexico  still  resided 
in  the  pioneer  California  Development  Company,  which  by  this 
time  had  been  forced  into  bankruptcy  by  repeated  floods  and 
other  misfortunes.  The  Southern  Pacific  Railroad,  having  con- 
trolled the  C.  D.  Company  since  the  great  flood,  bought  it  at 
receiver's  auction  in  February  1916,  and  promptly  sold  the  prop- 
erty to  the  Imperial  Irrigation  District  for  $3,000,000.  Along  with 
the  canal,  levees,  and  equipment  came  company  manager  Charles 
Rockwood,  "grand  old  man"  of  Imperial,  who  took  over  the 
duties  of  chief  engineer  for  the  district. 

Valley  settlers  had  gained  control  of  their  own  water  supply 
none  too  soon.  The  Colorado  was  now  alternating  between 


drought  and  flood,  requiring  desperate  measures  to  control  it. 
In  1915  the  river  was  so  low  that  for  over  a  month  Imperial 
irrigators  diverted  its  entire  flow  through  their  head  gate  by  the 
use  of  a  temporary  dam  across  the  channel.  But  that  winter  a 
flash  flood  of  the  Gila  sent  200,000  second-feet  of  water  roaring 
past  Yuma — a  record  volume  for  the  Arizona  tributary.  When  it 
began  piling  up  against  the  brush  and  rock  dam  at  the  Imperial 
heading,  water  was  backed  several  miles  up  the  river. 

Imperial's  citizens  scarcely  felt  the  flood,  but  their  Arizona 
neighbors  at  Yuma  were  soon  fighting  for  their  homes.  North 
of  town  the  river  broke  through  the  levee  on  January  22,  1916. 
Immediately  the  alarm  was  sounded,  and  Yuma  farmers  came 
rushing  with  their  teams  to  move  their  household  belongings  out 
of  town. 

They  were  too  late.  Brown  Colorado  water  swirled  down  Main 
Street,  pouring  into  the  buildings.  In  the  lower  section  one  adobe 
building  after  another  melted  like  sugar  and  dropped  into  the 
torrent.  Frantic  citizens  were  soon  paddling  through  the  streets 
in  rowboats,  with  the  flood  standing  four  feet  deep  in  the  main 
hotel.  "The  water  in  the  bank,"  recalled  one  apprehensive  resi- 
dent, "was  four  inches  below  my  safe-deposit  box." 

Farther  down  the  Yuma  Valley  the  river  made  a  second  break 
and  destroyed  many  acres  of  alfalfa.  Even  after  the  settlers 
plugged  the  holes  in  the  levees  the  water  remained  in  their  valley 
to  plague  them  for  several  months.  So  much  sediment  had  been 
deposited  over  the  land  that  for  years  much  of  it  was  unfit  for 

The  Yuma  people  then  turned  on  the  dam  at  Imperial  heading 
as  cause  of  their  disaster.  When  the  Imperial  Irrigation  District 
started  to  rebuild  it  late  that  summer,  an  irate  Yuma  delegation 
went  down  and  ordered  Rockwood's  engineers  to  stop.  If  another 
rock  was  dumped  on  the  dam,  warned  the  Yuma  men,  they 
would  "go  in  there  and  blow  it  and  you  to  Halifax." 

But  the  Imperial  group  was  not  convinced  until  the  Yuma 
Water  Users  Association  brought  an  injunction  against  them  in 
August  1916.  Then  the  I.I.D.  obliged  by  dynamiting  enough  of 
the  dam  to  relieve  the  flood  menace,  and  the  two  agricultural 
sections  lived  in  neighborly  peace  thereafter.  The  injunction 
stood  from  year  to  year,  permitting  Imperial  to  rebuild  the  dam 


only  on  the  promise  that  it  would  be  destroyed  before  the  Gila's 
winter  flood  season.  Yuma's  residents,  prizing  water  as  much  as 
any  Southwesterners,  were  equally  aware  that  there  was  such  a 
thing  as  having  too  much. 

Still  the  flood  menace  was  as  close  as  ever  for  Imperial  farmers. 
Below  the  border  the  Colorado,  riding  nervously  on  top  of  its 
delta  cone,  grew  more  threatening  every  year.  Its  bed  in  Bee 
River  channel  was  building  up  with  silt  at  the  rate  of  a  foot  a 
year,  causing  the  I.I.D.  to  keep  raising  the  levees  by  the  same 
amount.  One  corps  of  Imperial  engineers  was  surveying  for  new 
levee  construction  along  the  Colorado  when  the  freakish  current 
suddenly  broke  out  of  its  banks  and  spread  for  miles  over  the 
delta  country.  Every  man  took  to  the  mesquite  trees,  perching 
in  the  thorny  branches  for  three  days  until  one  of  them  swam 
to  higher  ground  for  help. 

Against  this  treacherous  creature  the  Imperial  Irrigation  Dis- 
trict built  up  a  formidable  standing  army  of  river  crews,  equipped 
with  work  trains  and  sixty  miles  of  levee  tracks.  In  flood  seasons 
a  quantity  of  rock  was  kept  ready  at  the  quarries  in  California, 
to  be  loaded  and  sent  rolling  at  a  warning  phone  call  from  the 
patrols  on  the  levees. 

The  continuing  struggle  against  the  Colorado  was  made  doubly 
tedious  by  the  location  of  the  canal  and  levees  below  the  border 
in  Mexico.  Every  set  of  plans  for  improvements  was  subject  to 
interminable  delays  by  officials  in  Mexico  City.  Local  authorities 
in  Lower  California  insisted  on  tying  the  district's  hands  with  red 
tape,  taking  advantage  of  the  fact  that  an  American  group  was 
dependent  on  Mexico  for  water  and  flood  control.  Each  carload 
of  rock  bound  for  the  Colorado  levees  was  stopped  at  the  border 
for  customs  duty.  During  one  period  every  member  of  the  I.I.D. 
levee  crew  was  stopped  daily  at  the  border  on  his  way  to  work 
and  asked  at  least  fifty  questions  by  the  customs  officers. 

At  one  of  the  crucial  flood  times  a  force  of  three  hundred  men 
was  fighting  the  river  along  the  levees  below  the  border.  After 
they  had  worked  feverishly  for  long  hours  night  and  day  without 
sleep  or  food,  the  I.I.D.  made  up  a  load  of  about  a  thousand 
lunches  for  them.  "We  rushed  them  to  the  customhouse  in  a 
truck,"  as  one  valley  farmer  bitterly  recalled,  "and  they  made  us 
set  every  one  of  those  lunches  out  and  counted  them  individually 


and  made  us  pay  tariffs  on  them  afterwards  amounting  to  more 
than  they  cost." 

Part  of  the  trouble  rose  out  of  the  valley's  original  Mexican 
water  concession  of  1 904,  which  reserved  up  to  half  of  any  water 
passing  through  the  canal  for  lands  in  Mexico.  Over  830,000 
acres  below  the  border — including  nearly  all  the  irrigable  delta 
lands — had  been  owned  since  the  turn  of  the  century  by  a  band 
of  Los  Angeles  investors.  Chief  of  these  was  Harry  Chandler  of 
the  Times,  although  the  syndicate  included  others  of  the  same 
group  which  had  subdivided  San  Fernando  Valley.  When  it  was 
discovered  that  cotton  would  grow  successfully  on  these  lands, 
they  were  leased  out  to  Mexican  and  Chinese  tenants,  who  irri- 
gated them  with  an  assured  water  supply  from  the  Imperial 
Canal.  Cultivated  land  below  the  border  jumped  to  1 1 8,500  acres 
by  1918,  as  compared  with  367,000  in  Imperial  Valley.  The 
American  farmers  began  to  fear  that  there  would  be  far  too  little 
water  for  all  users  in  the  next  period  of  drought. 

Under  these  conditions  Imperial  Valley  could  not  hold  its 
destiny  in  its  own  hands.  As  long  as  its  lifeblood  depended  upon 
the  whim  of  a  foreign  authority,  it  had  no  security  in  its  water 
supply  or  in  its  defense  against  floods.  By  1917  the  I.I.D.  was 
talking  of  a  new  canal  which  would  tap  the  Colorado  at  Laguna 
Dam  above  Yuma  and  skirt  along  the  border  on  the  California 
side  till  it  reached  the  valley.  It  would  have  the  formidable 
walking  hills  to  cross,  but  Imperial  engineers  believed  a  canal 
could  be  maintained  through  them  in  spite  of  shifting  sands.  The 
valley  was  determined,  in  any  case,  to  uproot  itself  from  the 
grasp  of  Mexico. 

The  idea  of  an  "All-American  Canal"  north  of  the  border  was 
not  new.  Since  1912  a  resolute  Imperial  farmer  named  Mark 
Rose  had  been  trying  to  get  a  water  supply  for  his  lands  on  the 
great  soo,ooo-acre  East  Mesa  of  Imperial  Valley.  Rose  was  a 
blocky,  heavy-shouldered  dirt  farmer,  roughshod  and  even  crude, 
but  a  man  with  a  quick  wit,  a  quicker  tongue,  and  a  facility  for 
getting  what  he  wanted.  While  his  property  was  situated  too  high 
for  a  gravity  flow  from  the  Mexican  canal,  Rose  found  that  it 
could  be  watered  by  a  ditch  built  from  the  Colorado  through  the 
sand  hills. 

For  several  years  he  badgered  congressional  committees  in 


Washington  for  an  appropriation,  emphasizing  the  enormous 
amount  of  government  land  on  the  East  Mesa  awaiting  irriga- 
tion from  the  river.  To  remove  the  fear  of  the  sand  hills,  he  got 
a  plank  road  built  through  them;  its  success  proved  that  the 
sand  moved  in  a  direction  which  would  not  menace  a  canal.  But 
at  the  same  time  the  I.I.D.  became  alarmed  at  the  thought  that, 
even  with  an  All-American  Canal,  Mark  Rose's  private  company 
might  stand  between  the  valley  and  the  river. 

Heading  the  district's  legal  affairs  at  that  time  was  alert  and 
vigorous  Phil  Swing,  a  rising  young  lawyer  who  had  already 
served  as  Imperial  County's  district  attorney.  Born  in  San  Ber- 
nardino, Swing  had  settled  in  Imperial  in  1907  to  begin  his  first 
practice  in  a  young  and  booming  frontier  territory.  With  him  he 
brought  a  dynamic  energy  and  a  flare  for  showmanship  that  soon 
made  him  a  forceful  leader  in  valley  affairs.  As  chief  counsel  for 
the  I.I.D.  he  had  clashed  more  than  once  with  Harry  Chandler's 
Mexican  interests.  But  determined  as  he  was  to  free  Imperial 
from  Mexican  control,  he  was  equally  certain  that  little  relief 
could  be  had  from  a  canal  in  California  which  was  dominated 
by  Mark  Rose. 

"If  an  All-American  Canal  is  to  be  built,"  Swing  told  the 
district  directors,  "Imperial  Valley  will  have  to  build  and  main- 
tain it." 

By  1917  he  realized  that  Rose  was  making  dangerous  head- 
way in  Washington,  and  was  soon  hurrying  East  to  block  him. 
Swing  left  the  capital  armed  with  an  agreement  between  the 
Reclamation  Bureau  and  the  Imperial  Irrigation  District  to  in- 
vestigate Imperial's  need  for  an  All-American  Canal.  With  one 
stroke  he  had  elbowed  Mark  Rose  out  of  his  own  project. 

But  Rose  was  a  man  of  cast-iron  feelings.  He  was  interested 
in  getting  the  canal  through,  regardless  of  who  owned  it.  Unable 
to  beat  the  leaders  of  the  I.I.D.,  he  joined  them. 

"You've  knocked  me  out  of  this,"  he  told  the  district  directors, 
"and  you're  going  to  build  the  canal.  Now  I'm  going  to  get  on 
the  board  and  see  that  you  do." 

At  the  next  district  election  Mark  Rose  became  a  director  of 
the  I.I.D.  by  an  overwhelming  vote.  From  that  time  on  he  and 
Phil  Swing  worked  together  and  made  an  irresistible  team  in  their 
fight  for  the  All-American  Canal. 


Their  first  task  was  to  convince  the  Reclamation  Bureau,  and 
this  meant  convincing  its  distinguished  chief  engineer,  Arthur 
Powell  Davis.  Swing  and  Rose  found,  however,  that  there  was 
little  he  did  not  already  know  about  the  Colorado.  As  a  nephew 
of  Major  John  W.  Powell,  the  famed  explorer  of  the  river,  Davis 
had  been  immersed  in  its  lore  from  boyhood.  He  had  first 
glimpsed  its  meandering  channel  at  a  point  near  Grand  Canyon 
in  1882,  while  serving  as  a  topographer  with  the  Geological  Sur- 
vey. From  the  middle  nineties  until  his  transfer  to  the  new  Recla- 
mation Bureau  in  1902  he  had  measured  the  river's  annual  flow 
in  its  upper  tributaries.  With  engineer  J.  B.  Lippincott  he  ex- 
amined the  lower  Colorado  and  in  the  bureau's  first  annual 
report,  recommended  a  dam  at  Boulder  Canyon. 

Swing  and  Rose  could  not  help  regarding  Arthur  Davis  as  the 
tall  and  dignified  veteran  of  Western  reclamation,  the  man  who 
most  deserved  the  name  of  "father  of  Colorado  development." 
In  repeated  interviews  and  conversations  his  advice  was  always 
the  same:  if  the  All- American  Canal  was  to  bring  new  lands 
under  irrigation  on  the  East  Mesa  and  elsewhere,  the  project 
must  have  a  storage  reservoir. 

"It  just  isn't  practical,"  he  told  Swing,  "to  reclaim  that  land 
with  the  threat  of  a  drought  every  five  years.  We've  got  to  have 
a  dam." 

Swing  and  the  I.I.D.  were  reluctant  to  complicate  their  prob- 
lem with  the  kind  of  dam  Davis  had  in  mind.  Yet  they  knew 
that  only  a  great  controlling  works  in  the  Colorado  channel 
would  give  them  complete  relief  from  recurring  floods.  In  July 
1919  the  matter  was  settled  for  them.  A  three-man  engineering 
board  had  investigated  Imperial's  water  problems,  according  to 
the  agreement  Swing  had  won  between  the  Reclamation  Bureau 
and  the  I.I.D.,  and  had  rendered  a  report.  It  not  only  recom- 
mended an  All-American  Canal  but  added  that  the  government 
"should  undertake  the  early  construction  of  a  storage  reservoir 
on  the  drainage  basin  of  the  Colorado  River.  .  .  ."  Now  there 
was  no  doubt  that  A.  P.  Davis  and  Imperial  Valley  were  on  the 
same  side. 

At  this  point  the  water-conscious  states  of  the  Rocky  Mountain 
region  took  sudden  notice.  Storage  reservoirs  meant  greater  use 
of  water,  and  greater  use  meant  larger  prior  rights  to  the  flow 


of  the  Colorado.  If  these  states  of  the  river's  upper  basin  were 
not  to  find  most  of  their  water  pre-empted  by  the  time  they  were 
ready  to  use  it,  they  must  step  wholeheartedly  into  this  Colorado 

Water  discussion  between  the  states,  in  fact,  had  already  begun 
by  1919.  Preliminary  talks  among  interested  groups  from  several 
states  had  been  held  the  year  before  at  Tucson  and  San  Diego. 
Already  the  whole  state  of  California  had  taken  up  Imperial's 
cause  as  its  own  and  had  asked  the  other  Colorado  River  states 
for  a  general  meeting  on  the  water  problem. 

On  January  1 8,  1919,  a  distinguished  assemblage  of  governors, 
senators,  and  the  foremost  engineers  in  the  Southwest  gathered 
at  Salt  Lake  City — and  thereupon  began  the  long  struggle  over 
Colorado  development.  California,  backed  at  that  time  by  Ari- 
zona, pressed  for  hurried  construction  on  the  lower  river  to  pre- 
vent floods  at  Yuma  and  Imperial  Valley.  But  the  upper  states — 
Colorado,  Wyoming,  Utah,  and  New  Mexico — opposed  such  de- 
velopment unless  their  future  water  rights  were  protected. 

They  had  ample  reason  for  their  fears.  In  two  previous  Western 
projects  the  Rocky  Mountain  states  had  found  their  irrigation 
restricted  by  downstream  activity.  In  1904  the  Reclamation 
Bureau  had  filed  on  the  North  Platte  River  in  Wyoming,  and 
constructed  the  giant  Pathfinder  Dam.  When  completed,  it  was 
feared  that  there  was  insufficient  water  for  its  full  use ;  Wyoming 
irrigators  on  the  upper  North  Platte  were  "embargoed"  by  fed- 
eral statute  from  making  any  additional  water  diversions.  Wyo- 
ming found  its  own  development  hampered  for  the  sake  of  a 
project  which  mainly  benefited  Nebraska. 

Similarly,  the  great  Elephant  Butte  Dam  in  New  Mexico  was 
begun  in  1907  to  fulfill  an  American  agreement  with  Mexico  over 
the  waters  of  the  upper  Rio  Grande.  To  insure  a  full  water  sup- 
ply for  this  reservoir — largest  in  the  United  States  before  the 
Boulder  project — the  government  clamped  another  embargo  on 
any  new  upstream  irrigation  by  withholding  right-of-way  permits 
across  public  lands.  Water  users  on  the  upper  Rio  Grande  in  New 
Mexico  and  Colorado  were  outraged.  A  Colorado  senator  voiced 
the  fury  of  the  two  states  in  a  powerful  speech  in  Congress,  end- 
ing with  the  declaration  that  "while  it  is  too  late  to  save  the 
waters  of  the  Rio  Grande,  because  the  treaty  has  now  been  rati- 


fied,  yet  I  say  this  is  a  warning  that  it  may  not  happen  again 
on  the  Colorado." 

Such  was  the  sentiment  the  Californians  faced  at  the  Salt  Lake 
conference.  It  ended  with  a  resolution  that  Colorado  develop- 
ment should  start  at  the  headwaters  and  proceed  gradually  down- 
stream— a  clear  first  victory  for  the  upper-basin  states. 

The  Californians  returned  home,  however,  with  one  accom- 
plishment. The  question  of  the  Colorado  had  been  projected  to 
the  national  scene,  and  a  new  organization  had  been  formed  for 
the  river's  development  among  water  users  throughout  the  basin 
— the  League  of  the  Southwest.  During  the  next  few  years  the 
gathering  conflict  over  the  Colorado  centered  in  its  stormy  meet- 
ings. At  Los  Angeles,  where  the  Californians  held  the  advantage 
of  numbers,  they  overrode  the  Salt  Lake  resolution  and  passed 
another  calling  for  an  investigation  of  the  Boulder  Canyon  dam 
site  "with  a  view  to  prompt  construction."  At  this  the  northern 
states  courteously  invited  the  League  to  a  third  meeting  at 
Denver — the  stronghold  of  upper-basin  sentiment.  Here  in  Janu- 
ary 1921  they  put  through  a  rule  for  unit  voting  by  states,  giving 
them  a  4-3  majority  over  the  three  lower-basin  states  of  Cali- 
fornia, Nevada,  and  Arizona. 

From  then  on  the  Denver  conference  was  in  the  hands  of  the 
upper  states,  and  in  particular  of  Colorado  and  its  chief  repre- 
sentative, Delph  Carpenter.  One  of  the  great  water  attorneys  of 
the  West,  Carpenter  combined  the  talents  of  eloquent  persuasion 
and  political  cunning.  He  was  a  product  of  the  cattle  country 
north  of  Denver — a  former  cowboy  turned  lawyer.  So  great  were 
his  tact  and  agility  that  he  represented  both  sheep  and  cattle  in- 
terests in  a  region  where  the  two  were  incompatible.  On  one  oc- 
casion he  is  said  to  have  been  riding  with  a  group  of  cowpunchers 
who  shot  up  a  sheepherder's  camp.  Unnoticed  by  the  sheepmen, 
Carpenter  rode  hurriedly  back  to  his  law  office  in  the  town  of 
Greeley.  He  was  seated  behind  his  desk,  out  of  breath  but  smiling, 
when  the  outraged  sheepmen  arrived  and  had  him  draw  up  a 
complaint  against  their  assailants. 

By  1921,  Carpenter  was  no  longer  a  local  lawyer  of  limited 
practice.  Specializing  in  water  law,  he  represented  his  state  in 
the  two  great  cases  which  patterned  Western  irrigation  rights — 
Kansas  vs.  Colorado  in  1911,  and  Wyoming  vs.  Colorado,  which 


was  then  still  pending  before  the  Supreme  Court.  He  became 
known  as  the  "silver  fox  of  Colorado,"  and  though  he  cham- 
pioned his  own  state  in  conflicts  with  her  neighbors,  the  entire 
Rocky  Mountain  region  looked  to  him  for  leadership  in  dealing 
with  the  lower  Colorado  basin. 

Carpenter's  main  contention  at  the  Denver  meeting  was  that, 
before  the  upper  states  would  agree  to  Boulder  Canyon  or  any 
other  lower-basin  project,  they  must  be  guaranteed  against  any 
interruption  in  their  own  development.  Rejecting  California's 
proposal  that  the  entire  Colorado  program  be  left  to  the  Reclama- 
tion Bureau,  he  insisted  that  the  seven  Colorado-basin  states 
should  first  agree  among  themselves  by  an  interstate  compact. 

It  was  an  idea  which  Carpenter  had  long  fostered  as  the  only 
way  to  solve  the  legal  conflicts  which  kept  Western  water  usage 
in  constant  litigation.  Within  most  Western  states,  water  rights 
rested  on  the  simple  rule  of  prior  usage — "first  in  time,  first  in 
right."  But  priorities  between  users  in  two  separate  states  were 
still  in  doubt  and  would  remain  so  until  the  pending  Wyoming  vs. 
Colorado  case  was  decided.  If  this  was  settled  so  as  to  eliminate 
state  boundaries  in  water  rights,  the  upper  states  feared  they 
could  never  compete  with  the  populous  and  growing  California 
in  a  race  to  appropriate  the  river's  water.  Carpenter's  own  state 
of  Colorado,  which  supplied  sixty-five  per  cent  of  the  river's  flow, 
did  not  intend  to  allow  it  to  pass  by  unused  for  the  sole  benefit 
of  irrigators  in  the  arid  Southwest. 

A  Colorado  compact,  however,  would  end  any  possibility  of 
priorities  across  state  lines  and  would  enable  the  upper  states  to 
preserve  their  water  rights  for  future  use.  Carpenter  and  his 
upper-basin  supporters  were  able  to  convince  the  delegates  at 
the  Denver  convention.  They  adjourned  with  a  resolution  that 
the  Colorado  basin  be  rapidly  developed  and  that  its  waters  be 
divided  by  interstate  compact. 

After  that,  events  moved  rapidly  in  the  direction  of  a  Colorado 
settlement.  Early  in  1921  the  seven  state  legislatures  passed  en- 
abling acts  for  the  framing  of  a  compact.  In  August,  Congress 
gave  its  consent.  Members  of  the  new  Colorado  Commission  were 
soon  being  chosen  to  represent  each  state  in  laying  out  a  basic 
law  of  the  river. 


But  if  the  upper  states  were  making  progress  with  their  com- 
pact scheme,  Imperial  Valley  was  gaining  ground  for  its  canal 
and  dam.  With  the  help  of  A.  P.  Davis  of  the  Reclamation 
Service,  Mark  Rose  and  Phil  Swing  were  working  to  get  congres- 
sional action.  In  May  1920  they  were  rewarded  with  the  Kincaid 
Act — authorizing  a  full-scale  report  on  an  irrigation  and  storage 
plan  for  the  lower  Colorado.  Imperial  was  asked  to  share  the 
expense,  and  it  eagerly  delivered  a  huge  overpayment  just  to 
insure  an  adequate  investigation.  Davis  took  personal  charge, 
and  in  little  more  than  a  year  had  turned  out  a  preliminary 
version  of  what  came  to  be  known  as  the  Fall-Davis  Report,  after 
the  Reclamation  chief  and  his  superior,  Albert  B.  Fall.  At  that 
time  the  lid  was  still  tight  on  the  scandal  of  Teapot  Dome,  and 
the  name  of  President  Harding's  Interior  Secretary  lent  distinc- 
tion to  the  report.  But  its  own  thorough  coverage  was  enough  to 
earn  the  title  of  the  "Bible  of  the  Colorado  River." 

When  initial  copies  were  passed  out  in  July  1921  the  reaction 
was  electric.  Davis  had  recommended  not  only  an  All-American 
Canal  and  a  reservoir  "at  or  near  Boulder  Canyon,"  but  also  the 
development  of  hydroelectric  power  to  repay  costs  of  the  dam. 
The  Southern  California  Edison  Company  lost  no  time  in  adding 
to  its  other  power  filings  on  the  Colorado  River  by  posting  no- 
tices at  Boulder  Canyon.  The  Southern  Sierras  Power  Company 
sent  its  general  manager  to  Imperial  Valley,  where  he  met  with 
the  Associated  Chambers  of  Commerce  at  Calipatria  late  in  July. 
Southern  Sierras  and  the  Edison  Company,  he  announced,  would 
build  Boulder  Dam  free  of  charge  if  Imperial  Valley  would  sup- 
port their  power  applications. 

But  down  from  Los  Angeles  that  night  came  the  Big  Three  of 
the  Water  and  Power  Department— Bill  Mulholland,  W.  B. 
Mathews,  and  E.  F.  Scattergood,  chief  of  the  electrical  division. 
Their  unexpected  appearance  threw  consternation  into  the  pri- 
vate power  camp. 

"It  would  be  monstrous  and  heinous,"  Mathews  exclaimed  to 
the  assemblage,  "to  place  all  remaining  power  potentialities  of 
the  Southwest  in  the  hands  of  a  great  combination  of  private 

In  the  face  of  this  broadside  from  the  Los  Angeles  public 
power  champions  the  Southern  Sierras  retired  in  temporary  de- 


feat.  It  was  only  the  first  skirmish,  however,  in  the  power  battle 
that  was  to  dog  the  Boulder  Canyon  project  to  its  completion. 

With  this  dramatic  entrance  the  Los  Angeles  Water  and  Power 
Department  threw  itself  into  Imperial's  cause.  But  while  the  val- 
ley had  gained  an  ally,  the  association  brought  new  enemies. 
When  the  League  of  the  Southwest  convened  for  its  fourth  meet- 
ing early  in  December  at  Riverside,  California,  the  upper  states 
delegates  were  more  fearful  than  ever  of  California's  ambitions. 
At  Denver  they  had  secured  agreement  for  their  Colorado  com- 
pact to  guarantee  their  rights  in  the  river.  This  time  they  meant 
to  make  it  unmistakably  plain  that  the  compact  must  be  in  full 
operation  before  they  would  tolerate  any  construction  of  dams 
and  canals.  Without  an  agreement  on  the  river  there  was  no 
telling  how  their  own  development  might  be  affected  by  such 
wholesale  water  and  power  rights  downstream. 

When  the  Riverside  meeting  opened  on  December  8,  1921,  it 
was  plain  that  the  California  members  held  a  majority  and  meant 
to  use  it  to  pass  a  resolution  demanding  immediate  dam  con- 
struction on  the  Colorado.  Delph  Carpenter  heatedly  reminded 
them  of  the  precedent  set  at  Denver  for  unit  voting  by  states. 
Still  the  Californians  would  not  yield  the  advantage.  Delegates 
from  Utah,  Colorado,  Wyoming,  and  New  Mexico  then  threat- 
ened to  walk  out  and  wreck  the  conference  if  they  did  not  get  the 
unit  rule.  Just  before  the  end  of  the  first  day's  session  Arizona  and 
Nevada  joined  them  against  California  in  refusing  to  participate 
in  any  League  resolutions.  The  whole  problem  of  the  Colorado 
was  now  confined  in  this  tumultuous  conference  at  Riverside. 

Next  day  the  case  for  the  upper  states  was  argued  by  one  of 
their  ablest  delegates — the  powerful  L.  Ward  Bannister  of  Den- 
ver. Known  as  one  of  the  foremost  water  lawyers  in  the  nation, 
Bannister  was  president  of  the  Colorado  River  League,  an  organ- 
ization of  upper-basin  cities  and  corporations  which  had  an  inter- 
est in  developing  the  river.  Together  with  Delph  Carpenter, 
against  whom  he  often  contended  for  leadership,  Bannister  made 
the  Colorado  state  delegation  a  dynamic  factor  at  any  water 
meeting.  He  now  proceeded  to  harangue  the  assembly  on  the 
rights  of  the  upper  basin.  As  for  Colorado,  he  warned,  she  would 
fight  "any  and  all  development  on  the  lower  river"  till  her  inter- 
ests were  protected  by  interstate  compact. 


In  the  middle  of  his  tirade  Secretary  of  the  Interior  Fall  strode 
into  the  auditorium.  Amid  a  welcoming  applause  from  the  Cali- 
fornia delegates  he  took  his  seat  on  the  platform.  Having  heard 
part  of  Bannister's  remarks,  he  now  leaned  forward  in  his  chair 
and  answered  him.  The  states  did  not  have  absolute  control  over 
interstate  rivers,  Fall  declared,  intimating  that  the  federal  govern- 
ment could  build  Boulder  Dam  without  sectional  interference. 
California's  members  showered  his  words  with  a  wild  ovation. 
They  now  had  the  whole  Interior  Department  on  their  side. 

On  the  last  day  the  other  six  states  framed  a  compromise,  but 
California  did  not  intend  to  lose  an  inch  of  ground  already 
gained.  Before  the  compromise  could  be  presented  a  Los  Angeles 
man  moved  to  adjourn.  The  conference  broke  up  in  loud  and 
desperate  quarreling,  during  which  a  Californian  shouted  the  un- 
deserved charge  to  Delph  Carpenter:  "I  have  a  graveyard  full  of 
better  men  than  you!" 

The  League  of  the  Southwest,  formed  to  further  the  devel- 
opment of  the  Colorado,  left  Riverside  with  its  organization 
broken.  A  fifth  meeting  was  later  held  at  Santa  Barbara,  but  as 
an  effective  voice  for  the  Colorado  basin  the  League  had  already 
fallen  victim  to  the  row  between  the  states. 

Besides,  the  impatient  Boulder  advocates  could  not  be  held 
down  to  interstate  meetings  after  the  promise  of  federal  dam 
construction.  Two  days  after  the  Riverside  conference  they  gath- 
ered at  San  Diego's  U.  S.  Grant  Hotel,  where  Secretary  Fall  held 
a  hearing  on  the  final  version  of  A.  P.  Davis5  Colorado  dam 
report.  There  they  cheered  Awhile  Fall  repeated  his  assurance  on 
construction  of  Boulder  Dam.  Enthusiasm  rose  even  higher  in 
further  fiery  words  from  Mark  Rose,  Phil  Swing,  Billy  Mathews, 
and  other  leaders. 

But  as  the  evening  session  began  two  men  from  Colorado 
dropped  a  sour  note  in  this  happy  chorus.  One  of  them  was  L. 
Ward  Bannister,  the  same  who  had  clashed  with  Fall  at  River- 
side. He  declared  that  Colorado  would  support  federal  construc- 
tion in  the  lower  basin  only  after  the  water  rights  were  settled 
by  compact.  Otherwise,  he  pointedly  warned,  "we  must  meet  the 
men  of  California  upon  the  floor  of  Congress  and  through  our 
senators  and  representatives  oppose  absolutely  their  plans  for  the 
development  of  the  lower  part  of  the  river.  .  .  ." 


Bannister  had  made  no  empty  threat.  In  both  houses  of  Con- 
gress the  irrigation  committees  were  dominated  by  Rocky  Moun- 
tain men.  Galifornians  knew  that  without  the  support  of  the 
upper  states  they  could  never  get  a  Boulder  project  passed  into 
law.  In  spite  of  California's  triumph  in  winning  government  sup- 
port, Bannister  and  his  upper-basin  friends  still  held  the  aces  in 
the  Colorado  poker  game.  It  was  a  matter  of  no  compact,  no 
Boulder  Dam. 

Californians,  in  fact,  were  already  resigned  to  the  bargain. 
Phil  Swing  was  busy  in  Washington  laying  a  background  for  the 
forthcoming  negotiations  which  would  further  the  cause  of 
Boulder  Dam.  Of  necessity  the  government  would  have  a  repre- 
sentative sitting  on  the  compact  commission,  and  Swing  was  de- 
termined to  get  the  most  formidable  ally  possible.  "Herbert 
Hoover,"  he  told  A.  P.  Davis,  "would  be  the  man  if  we  can  get 

The  Reclamation  chief  promptly  abandoned  his  own  ambi- 
tions for  the  post  and  seized  Swing's  idea.  More  than  anything 
else  he  wanted  Boulder  Dam,  and  no  one  would  be  a  more  pow- 
erful advocate  than  Hoover — former  European  relief  administra- 
tor, now  Secretary  of  Commerce,  and  potentially  the  most  likely 
successor  to  President  Harding.  At  Swing's  suggestion  Davis  went 
to  Hoover  with  the  proposition,  drew  up  impressive  plans  for  him 
to  examine,  and  convinced  him  of  the  magnitude  of  the  scheme. 

In  mid-December  Harding  appointed  Hoover  federal  repre- 
sentative on  the  new  Colorado  River  Commission.  When  dele- 
gates of  the  seven  states  arrived  in  Washington  for  the  first 
meeting  on  January  26,  1922,  they  immediately  named  Hoover 
chairman.  As  the  tug  of  war  over  the  Colorado  opened,  Cali- 
fornia had  won  the  first  advantage. 

It  was  to  be  her  only  one.  The  four  upper-basin  states — Utah, 
Wyoming,  Colorado,  and  New  Mexico — arrived  with  a  definite 
plan  of  attack.  Their  leader  was  Delph  Carpenter,  who  had  first 
suggested  the  compact  solution.  Carpenter  knew  water  law,  and 
he  knew  every  trick  of  negotiation  and  compromise.  Together 
with  his  three  upper-state  allies,  the  "silver  fox  of  Colorado" 
meant  to  write  a  compact  that  would  protect  every  present  and 
future  right  of  Rocky  Mountain  water  users. 

Against  this  formidable  array  sat  California's  representative, 


Wilbur  F.  McClure,  the  state  engineer  who  had  investigated  the 
seizure  of  the  Los  Angeles  Aqueduct  gates  in  Owens  Valley.  He 
was,  as  an  associate  describes  him,  a  "kindly  old  gentleman,"  but 
utterly  lacking  in  an  understanding  of  Southern  California's 
water  needs  and  an  ability  to  drive  a  bargain.  It  apparently  did 
not  occur  to  him  that  in  the  succeeding  meetings  California 
would  be  fighting  for  a  share  of  Colorado  water  on  which  to  base 
its  entire  foreseeable  development.  McClure  should  have  been 
the  forceful  leader  of  the  commission ;  but  even  the  Nevada  dele- 
gate, representing  only  a  small  interest  in  the  Colorado,  made  a 
stronger  showing. 

In  this  situation  the  Arizona  representative  appeared  as  the 
tiger  of  the  commission.  Like  Carpenter,  Winfield  S.  Norviel  of 
Phoenix  was  an  irrigation  lawyer — one  of  the  most  experienced 
in  Arizona.  He  was  a  man  of  powerful  build  and  unrelenting 
will;  while  he  fell  short  of  Carpenter  in  brilliant  oratory,  he  gave 
way  to  none  in  slow  and  dogged  cross-table  argument.  As  state 
water  commissioner  he  was  acutely  aware  that  Arizona's  future 
was  now  staked  on  his  bargaining  ability. 

At  the  first  meeting  Norviel  presented  a  full  draft  of  a  com- 
pact, imposing  on  each  state  a  limit  for  the  number  of  acres  to 
be  put  under  irrigation  in  the  next  twenty  years.  Carpenter  and 
the  upper  delegates  were  aghast  at  the  suggestion.  They  had 
come  to  Washington  to  secure  unlimited  protection  in  return  for 
their  support  for  Boulder  Dam,  not  to  submit  to  restriction. 

For  the  next  few  days  the  commissioners  wrangled  over  Ari- 
zona's limitation  idea.  Each  state  was  invited  to  estimate  its  total 
water  needs,  but  when  their  figures  were  submitted  the  total  ran 
far  beyond  the  Colorado's  volume.  Every  estimate  except  Cali- 
fornia's was  far  beyond  the  official  Reclamation  figures  in  the 
Davis  Report.  When  Hoover  asked  for  a  modification  of  claims 
each  state  in  turn  refused  to  yield  or  made  only  a  token  reduc- 
tion. He  began  to  realize  with  rising  impatience  that  there  could 
never  be  a  division  of  water  between  the  seven  states.  Had  they 
been  dividing  any  other  resource,  compromise  might  have  fol- 
lowed. But  in  the  arid  West  water  was  the  foundation  of  each 
state's  hopes.  They  would  never  compromise  on  it. 

The  commissioners  knew  they  were  at  the  crossroads  as  the 
seventh  session  opened  on  the  afternoon  of  January  30.  More 

than  one  was  convinced  it  would  be  the  last.  "I  do  not  believe  we 
are  going  to  progress  to  a  real  basis  at  this  meeting,5'  declared  the 
Utah  delegate. 

Hoover  was  desperate.  He  had  joined  this  cause  to  bring  about 
an  agreement  that  would  lead  to  Boulder  Dam.  In  one  last  effort 
he  asked  the  commissioners  whether  they  would  not  consent  to 
some  plan  that  would  merely  control  the  river  and  save  Imperial 
Valley  from  devastating  floods. 

"It  would  seem  a  great  misfortune,"  he  observed,  "if  we  dis- 
solve this  commission  without  at  least  agreeing  upon  so  primary  a 
necessity  as  a  control  reservoir." 

"We  are  not  here  to  jump  in  a  band  wagon  with  California," 
fumed  the  Wyoming  delegate.  "We  in  turn  want  the  lower  river 
to  agree  with  us  that  our  rights  in  Wyoming  are  entirely  pro- 

At  last  Hoover  turned  in  despair  to  the  final  question.  So  far, 
he  observed,  they  had  not  been  able  to  agree  on  a  single  idea. 
"The  question  arises,  is  it  worth  while  to  have  another  session? 
Or  shall  we  make  the  declaration  now  that  we  are  so  hopelessly 
far  apart  that  there  is  no  use  in  proceeding?" 

After  a  pause  the  Utah  representative  suggested  that  they 
should  adjourn  and  "try  again"  later  in  the  year.  With  ruffled 
feelings  smoothed,  the  commissioners  agreed  on  this  one  issue. 
They  disbanded  to  gather  data  and  meet  again  somewhere  in  the 
Southwest.  Perhaps  time  and  a  fresh  approach  could  bring  agree- 
ment to  the  fractious  Colorado  basin. 

When  the  commission  gathered  for  the  first  hearing  in  Phoenix 
on  March  15,  it  seemed  that  the  whole  basin  had  suddenly  come 
alive  to  its  water  interests.  Phoenix  hotels  were  jammed  with 
delegations  from  every  basin  state.  Water  men  from  at  least  two 
dozen  Southern  California  organizations  caucused  ahead  of  time 
to  present  a  solid  front  before  the  commissioners.  A  packed  gal- 
lery of  local  citizens  supported  every  new  demand  for  Arizona's 
rights  with  thundering  applause. 

By  the  time  the  commissioners  met  at  Salt  Lake  City,  where 
Utah  water  advocates  demanded  unlimited  rights,  Hoover  was 
despairing  of  any  progress.  The  commission  could  never  reach  an 
agreement,  he  declared,  "so  long  as  each  state  insists  on  un- 
restricted use  of  the  Colorado  within  its  own  borders  and  re- 


stricted  use  in  all  the  other  states."  Finally  at  Denver  the  Colorado 
people  carried  on  the  campaign  for  unlimited  rights. 

"I  fail  to  see,"  shouted  one,  "why  Colorado  should  join  a  com- 
pact which  surrenders  one  drop  of  water." 

This  period  of  fact  finding,  Hoover  could  see,  had  done  noth- 
ing more  than  stir  up  state  jealousies.  During  the  summer  he 
confided  his  despair  to  Carl  Hayden,  veteran  congressman  from 
Arizona,  stating  that  he  could  get  absolutely  no  harmony  between 
the  states.  Hayden  was  an  old  campaigner  whose  ten  years  in 
Congress  had  taught  him  the  subtle  short  cuts  to  agreement. 

"What  you  say  is  due  to  your  political  inexperience,"  he  re- 
plied, and  pointed  out  that  a  fall  election  was  approaching. 
Whatever  a  state  official  might  agree,  "his  opponent  is  going  to 
say  that  he  has  traded  away  the  heritage  of  his  people."  Wait 
until  after  the  fall  election,  advised  Hayden,  and  then  the  com- 
missioners "will  write  a  compact." 

The  Arizonan's  strategy  was  undeniable.  Hoover  set  the  final 
meetings  at  Santa  Fe,  New  Mexico,  to  start  November  9,  two  days 
after  the  election.  Meanwhile  other  events  occurring  through  the 
summer  of  1922  played  into  Hoover's  favor.  On  June  5  the 
Supreme  Court  handed  down  its  final  decision  in  the  long- 
awaited  Wyoming  vs.  Colorado  case :  the  rule  of  prior  appropria- 
tions in  water  rights — "first  in  time,  first  in  right" — applied 
regardless  of  state  lines.  It  was  a  costly  setback  for  the  upper 
states.  Their  worst  fears  of  being  caught  in  a  race  for  develop- 
ment with  California  were  now  confirmed.  More  than  ever  they 
needed  a  compact  for  protection  against  such  huge  lower-basin 
projects  as  Boulder  Dam. 

As  if  to  add  to  the  threat,  the  Boulder  Dam  bill  came  up  for 
serious  consideration  in  Congress  in  the  same  month.  Phil  Swing 
himself  had  taken  his  seat  in  the  lower  house  the  year  before — 
elected  to  represent  Imperial's  district  on  a  single  campaign 
promise:  he  would  go  to  Washington  and  put  through  Boulder 

The  freshman  congressman  later  said  that  if  he  had  known  at 
the  start  the  long  and  bitter  fight  that  awaited  him  he  would 
have  hesitated  to  begin.  But  Swing  was  young  and  confident, 
with  the  world  before  him.  Soon  after  he  reached  Washington  he 
descended  on  the  office  of  California's  stern  and  dynamic  Hiram 

Johnson,  who  was  then  nearing  the  end  of  his  first  term  in  the 
Senate.  Wise  in  the  ways  of  congressional  politics,  Johnson  waited 
accommodatingly  while  Swing  eagerly  described  his  Boulder 
Dam  bill.  Then  with  paternal  warmth  Johnson  put  his  hand  over 
the  younger  man's  shoulder  and  walked  with  him  to  the  door. 

"You  go  right  ahead,"  he  soothed.  "You  get  it  through  the 
House,  then  send  it  over  here,  and  I'll  get  it  through  the  Senate." 

If  Swing  caught  the  warning  in  this  gentle  sarcasm  he  did  not 
heed  it.  For  two  years  he  buttonholed  legislators  on  both  sides  of 
the  Capitol,  pouring  out  his  plan  for  taming  the  Colorado.  While 
he  made  little  headway  with  the  rest  of  Congress,  he  succeeded 
at  least  in  firing  California's  own  delegation.  Even  Hiram  John- 
son, with  one  ear  cocked  to  the  rising  sentiment  for  the  project 
in  California,  joined  Swing  in  sponsoring  his  bill  and  became  the 
rousing  champion  of  Boulder  Dam  on  the  Senate  side. 

Their  arguments  were  roundly  supported  by  news  of  the  Colo- 
rado's latest  antics.  Already  it  had  broken  out  of  its  levees  again, 
forcing  Imperial's  river  fighters  to  fall  back  to  a  new  line  of  defense. 
With  Volcano  Lake  overflowing  northward  once  more,  they  made 
a  counterattack  against  the  river  and  by  means  of  a  new  cut 
turned  it  into  another  delta  basin  called  the  Pescadero  Depres- 
sion. But  they  knew  it  would  be  only  a  matter  of  years  before  it 
filled  and  placed  them  once  again  at  the  river's  mercy. 

Then  in  1921  the  Colorado  flung  itself  against  the  levees  at 
Yuma,  and  the  entire  farm  community  turned  out  to  fight  the 
rising  flood.  One  hero  is  said  to  have  discovered  a  leak  several 
feet  wide  in  an  emergency  dike,  and  in  true  Dutch-boy  fashion 
flung  himself  into  the  hole  and  plugged  it  until  his  cries  brought 
a  rescue  crew.  Up  and  down  the  levees  the  farmers  were  able  to 
hold  the  river  that  year,  though  they  had  nearly  run  out  of  the 
materials  for  levee  building  when  the  water  stopped  rising 
scarcely  an  inch  from  the  top. 

In  1922  the  Colorado  turned  its  fury  on  California's  Palo 
Verde  Valley,  sixty  miles  above  Yuma.  Breaking  through  the 
levees  below  Blythe,  it  rolled  into  the  thriving  little  valley  with- 
out warning  on  May  22.  Farm  families  took  flight  with  no  time 
to  salvage  their  belongings  before  the  water  rushed  over  their 
lands.  Then  it  swept  into  the  rising  young  town  of  Ripley  and 
stood  four  feet  deep  in  the  lobby  of  its  new  $100,000  hotel. 


While  these  dreadful  tidings  were  still  reaching  Washington, 
hearings  began  on  Swing's  bill  in  the  House  Irrigation  Commit- 
tee. But  it  was  also  a  time  when  the  Wyoming  vs.  Colorado  deci- 
sion was  fresh  in  the  minds  of  the  Rocky  Mountain  congressmen 
who  dominated  the  group.  They  were  not  willing,  as  an  Arizonan 
later  put  it,  "to  let  the  sheep  of  flood  protection  cover  up  the 
wolf  of  power  and  water  greed."  The  first  Swing- Johnson  bill 
died  without  reaching  the  floor  of  either  house,  but  it  had  made 
the  upper  basin  more  intent  than  ever  on  a  Colorado  compact. 

On  November  9  the  commissioners  gathered  at  the  designated 
meeting  place  of  Bishop's  Lodge,  a  resort  situated  three  bumpy 
miles  from  Santa  Fe,  New  Mexico.  With  them  was  a  virtual 
horde  of  water  men  from  the  seven  interested  states.  The  Cali- 
fornia contingent,  consisting  of  Billy  Mathews,  Mark  Rose,  and 
seven  others,  had  wired  ahead  for  reservations  and  arrived  on  the 
day  before  the  first  meeting.  They  found  Bishop's  Lodge  loaded 
to  the  walls,  but  cheerfully  bunked  together — four  and  more  in 
a  room. 

Hoover  looked  upon  this  invasion  with  dismay.  He  had  no  in- 
tention of  allowing  the  conference  to  become  a  seven-ring  circus. 
Four  days  later  he  notified  the  proprietor  of  Bishop's  Lodge  that 
quarters  were  congested,  and  provided  him  with  a  new  rooming 
arrangement.  When  this  was  posted  on  the  morning  of  the  thir- 
teenth the  California  group  was  outraged.  Seven  of  them  had 
been  left  out  altogether,  with  only  Mathews  and  one  other 
colleague  allowed  to  remain.  They  appealed  to  Commissioner 
McClure,  but  he  only  advised  them  to  find  rooms  in  Santa  Fe. 
Three  of  them  did  so,  taking  a  taxi  every  morning  over  the  rutted 
canyon  road  to  Bishop's  Lodge.  The  other  four  took  the  next 
train  for  Los  Angeles. 

McClure  was  now  left  with  only  a  fraction  of  the  support  he 
needed  to  drive  a  bargain  with  Delph  Carpenter  and  the  men  of 
the  upper  basin.  Only  the  state  attorney  general,  another  north- 
ern Californian,  was  allowed  to  attend  the  meetings  with  him, 
while  most  of  the  other  commissioners  insisted  on  being  accom- 
panied by  the  best-informed  engineers  and  lawyers  available. 

When  the  real  negotiations  opened  on  November  n,  Delph 
Carpenter  presented  a  revolutionary  departure  from  previous 
compacts — one  which  divided  the  river  while  avoiding  the  impos- 

sible  task  of  allotting  water  to  each  of  the  seven  states.  A  fifty- 
fifty  division  would  be  made  between  the  upper  and  lower  basins, 
leaving  to  each  one  the  later  job  of  allotment  according  to  states. 
It  would  divide  the  flow  at  Lee  Ferry,  an  arbitrary  point  between 
the  two  basins  near  the  Arizona-Utah  border,  and  give  the  lower 
basin  6,264,000  acre-feet.  Together  with  the  Gila  and  other 
southern  tributaries,  this  was  supposed  to  equal  one  half  the 

The  principle  of  division  by  basin  was  Delph  Carpenter's 
crowning  stroke — the  compromise  that  undoubtedly  saved  the 
Compact.  The  upper  states,  having  already  been  consulted,  swung 
behind  it  immediately.  McClure  did  not  object,  and  soon  ac- 
cepted not  only  the  basin  principle  but  also  the  fifty-fifty  settle- 
ment— "as  a  fair  basis  for  discussion." 

But  Norviel  of  Arizona  was  suspicious:  "It  isn't,  as  I  conceive 
it,  what  we  were  appointed  for.  ...  It  leaves  the  two  divisions 
of  the  basin  to  work  out  their  own  salvation,  which  does  not 
mean  anything."  After  two  days  of  wrangling  he  finally  relented 
enough  to  accept  the  principle  of  division  by  basin.  He  insisted, 
however,  that  the  water  be  apportioned  according  to  the  needs 
of  each  basin,  rather  than  by  "the  gambler's  chance  of  fifty-fifty." 

With  the  upper  basin  still  standing  firm,  Hoover  made  a  new 
approach  on  the  afternoon  of  November  14.  Taking  the  16,400,000 
acre-feet  average  flow  estimated  in  the  Davis  Report,  he  sliced 
it  in  half  and  suggested  8,200,000  for  each  basin.  Norviel 
abruptly  retired  to  consult  his  Arizona  colleagues,  and  came  back 
agreeing  to  discuss  the  figure.  But  Carpenter  objected  that  the 
upper  states  could  never  deliver  such  a  quantity  in  dry  years: 
"Nature  will  force  us  into  a  violation.  .  .  ." 

The  commission  was  still  deadlocked.  At  last  Hoover  suggested 
that  the  two  sides  retire  and  frame  separate  propositions.  That 
night  they  caucused  separately  behind  closed  doors.  Next  morn- 
ing the  upper  states  returned  with  a  proposal  to  guarantee  to 
deliver  6,500,000  acre-feet.  McClure  then  and  there  agreed,  "I 
am  willing  to  consider  the  figure  named." 

Norviel  was  immovable.  Obviously,  he  said,  it  was  a  division 
of  6,500,000  to  the  lower  basin  and  10,000,000  to  the  upper.  "I 
like  to  be  moderate  in  my  statement,  but  I  think  that  is  certainly 


an  unfair  proposition,  and  feeling  that  way  about  it  at  this  time, 
I  certainly  must  reject  it." 

The  atmosphere  in  the  room  was  almost  explosive.  Carpenter 
and  the  upper-basin  men  hotly  reminded  Norviel  that  the  guar- 
anteeing states  needed  ample  protection  against  drought.  Norviel 
retorted  that  he  had  not  asked  for  a  guaranty  of  delivery — and 
thereby  put  his  ringer  on  the  veiled  crux  of  the  issue.  Both  sides 
were  fighting  for  water  rights,  against  which  they  could  be  free 
to  plan  and  finance  new  reclamation  projects.  Neither  side,  how- 
ever, said  so.  The  upper  states  insisted  that  a  guarantee  of  deliv- 
ery was  the  only  practicable  method,  and  then  asked  for  special 
consideration  because  of  the  responsibility  they  assumed.  Norviel 
wanted  to  talk  first  about  dividing  the  water  in  the  river  before 
discussing  guarantees.  He  answered  the  upper-basin  proposal  by 
offering  to  accept  Hoover's  8,200,000  acre-feet  to  each  basin. 

Hot  words  flew  back  and  forth  while  the  gap  remained  at 
1,700,000  acre-feet.  With  tempers  almost  at  the  breaking  point, 
the  Nevada  delegate  finally  exclaimed  that  if  the  upper  states 
would  guarantee  only  6,500,000,  "we  might  as  well  abandon  the 

"I  think  we  could  say  the  same  thing  of  the  lower  states," 
snapped  the  New  Mexico  commissioner. 

Once  again  Hoover  moved  in  and  suggested  a  compromise :  "I 
am  wondering  if  the  northern  states  will  make  it  7,500,000."  At 
this  the  upper  delegates  demanded  a  recess,  and  for  a  whole  day 
the  two  sides  conferred  among  themselves  and  bargained  with 
their  opponents.  When  they  convened  on  the  morning  of  the  six- 
teenth agreement  had  been  reached.  Hoover's  7,5OO,ooo-acre-foot 
compromise  passed  without  argument.  One  by  one  other  sections 
of  the  Compact  were  introduced  and  unanimously  accepted.  So 
far  as  most  of  the  commissioners  were  concerned,  the  main  battle 
was  safely  past. 

But  for  California  something  had  been  left  out.  The  upper 
states  had  secured  their  water  rights — enough  to  give  them  un- 
limited use  on  their  own  tributaries — but  they  had  not  in  turn 
agreed  to  Boulder  Dam.  Carpenter  had  admitted  that  the  lower 
basin  was  in  desperate  need  of  flood  control,  yet  he  would  accept 
no  such  provision  in  the  Compact. 


After  the  tentative  agreement  had  been  drafted,  the  Nevada 
delegate  turned  over  a  copy  to  W.  B.  Mathews,  Mark  Rose,  and 
the  few  California  water  men  remaining  at  Bishop's  Lodge.  They 
read  it  and  were  appalled.  In  the  whole  document  there  was  not 
a  sentence  or  even  a  footnote  on  Boulder  Dam — nor  on  any  water 
storage  at  all.  For  the  first  time  California's  water  interests  real- 
ized the  utter  impotence  of  their  state's  representation.  California 
had  simply  come  to  Santa  Fe  to  quitclaim  half  the  river  to  the 
upper  basin. 

When  the  meetings  were  reopened  on  November  19,  Mark 
Rose  led  the  group  before  the  commissioners  and  insisted  that 
water  storage  would  have  to  be  included  in  the  Compact,  as  all 
the  low  flow  of  the  river  was  now  being  used.  Subsequently 
Hoover  suggested  a  provision  for  a  reservoir  of  5,000,000  acre- 
feet — enough  to  satisfy  existing  water  needs.  Such  a  capacity, 
however,  was  a  mere  pond  compared  to  the  vast  reservoir  the 
Californians  had  in  mind.  They  told  Hoover  that  no  storage 
clause  at  all  would  be  better  than  this.  The  Secretary  believed  it 
was  worth  while,  however,  and  was  able  to  get  agreement  from 
the  seven  commissioners. 

But  the  California  men  were  not  through.  They  wrote  a  letter 
to  McClure,  stating  that  they  could  never  stomach  the  Compact 
he  had  permitted  the  commission  to  frame.  The  reaction  was 
immediate.  They  were  invited  to  a  conference  at  Secretary 
Hoover's  suite  in  Bishop's  Lodge.  At  the  appointed  time  Mathews, 
Rose,  and  three  others  filed  in  and  took  their  seats  at  one  end  of 
the  parlor.  Facing  them  was  Hoover  himself,  flanked  by  the 
California  commissioner.  After  an  embarrassing  pause  the  Secre- 
tary began. 

"Mr.  McClure  has  shown  me  your  letter  of  protest.  It  is  per- 
fectly outrageous  to  write  such  a  letter  to  Mr.  McClure.  .  .  . 
Your  criticism  of  the  proposed  Compact  is  unjustified.  Unless  you 
withdraw  it  in  writing,  I  will  be  forced  to  end  the  conference,  and 
the  blame  for  the  failure  of  Colorado  development  will  be  on 

For  a  moment  the  California  men  sat  perfectly  still.  Hoover's 
declaration  had  left  them  dumfounded.  Mark  Rose  was  the  first 
to  move.  He  stepped  solemnly  forward,  took  his  hat,  and  started 
across  the  room  toward  the  door.  Behind  him  filed  the  rest  of 


the  California  men  while  Hoover  watched  them  in  silence.  As 
Rose  passed  the  Secretary  he  paused,  leaned  over,  and  growled 
two  words: 

"Aw  hell." 

The  California  contingent  left  Hoover's  room,  Bishop's  Lodge, 
and  Santa  Fe.  The  next  train  for  California  carried  all  but  one 
or  two.  The  last  chance  for  the  water  interests  of  Southern  Cali- 
fornia to  influence  the  negotiations  had  passed.  There  was  now 
no  hope  that  the  great  project  they  had  envisioned  could  be  tied 
to  the  Colorado  Compact.  Instead  the  upper  states  had  secured 
their  water  rights  and  California  had  no  security  for  its  half  of 
the  bargain — Boulder  Dam. 

Still  the  lower  basin  as  a  whole  had  not  staged  its  last  fight  at 
Santa  Fe.  What  happened  next  remains  in  dispute,  as  the  final 
minutes  of  the  commission  meetings  have  since  been  lost.  But 
according  to  the  Arizona  version,  W.  S.  Norviel  made  one  last 
demand.  As  long  as  he  had  compromised  on  the  division  of  water, 
Arizona  would  have  to  withhold  its  Gila  River  out  of  the  bargain. 

The  fireworks  that  followed  can  be  reconstructed  only  from 
bits  of  testimony  by  some  of  the  participants.  Norviel's  opponents 
instantly  objected.  The  Gila  was  as  much  a  part  of  the  river  as 
any  tributary.  If  one  state  withheld  its  own  contribution  to  the 
main  stream,  then  the  rest  would  demand  the  same  right. 

Norviel  then  insisted — still  according  to  Arizona's  version — 
that  if  the  Gila  must  be  included  in  the  Colorado  basin  as  de- 
fined by  the  Compact,  then  Arizona  would  have  to  be  given 
special  compensation — 1,000,000  acre-feet.  To  this  the  upper 
states  raised  objections  more  furiously  than  ever,  but  Norviel 
made  it  plain  that  otherwise  he  would  not  sign  the  Compact. 
Like  the  stubborn  twelfth  man  on  a  jury,  he  finally  made  the 
others  relent.  In  Article  III  of  the  Compact,  which  allotted  the 
water,  was  inserted  a  paragraph  (b)  :  "In  addition  to  the  appor- 
tionment in  paragraph  (a),  the  Lower  Basin  is  hereby  given  the 
right  to  increase  its  beneficial  consumptive  use  of  such  waters  by 
one  million  acre-feet  per  annum." 

Delph  Carpenter,  the  shrewd  Colorado  lawyer  who  had  been 
expected  to  dominate  the  commission,  had  met  his  match  in 
Norviel  of  Arizona.  There  was  now  little  left  to  recognize  in  the 
ready-made  Compact  he  had  brought  to  Santa  Fe.  The  doughty 

Arizonan  had  seen  to  that.  His  stand  had  earned  him  Hoover's 
admiration  as  "the  best  fighter  on  the  commission." 

"Arizona  should  erect  a  monument  to  you,"  he  later  wrote  to 
Norviel,  "and  entitle  it  'One  Million  acre  feet.'  " 

This  is  the  water  which  has  been  the  nub  of  the  Arizona-Cali- 
fornia controversy  for  years.  Arizona  claimed  that  the  1,000,000 
acre-feet  of  "III  b  water"  belonged  to  her  alone,  and  that  the 
only  reason  the  Compact  does  not  say  so  is  that  the  commission- 
ers wanted  to  keep  it  uniform  in  its  division  by  basins  and  not  by 
states.  At  least  two  men  from  other  states  who  participated  in  the 
negotiations  support  this  claim.  There  was  a  gentleman's  agree- 
ment at  the  time,  according  to  Arizona,  that  this  water  was  to  be 

In  1934,  Arizona  told  this  to  the  Supreme  Court.  California 
objected,  and  the  case  was  thrown  out  on  the  ground  that  the 
Compact  was  perfectly  clear:  III  b  water  was  for  the  lower  basin, 
not  for  Arizona  alone. 

California's  version  does  not  attempt  to  describe  the  negotia- 
tions leading  up  to  the  puzzling  paragraph  III  b,  except  to  say 
that  its  purpose  was  to  allow  the  lower  basin  an  additional  use 
after  it  had  reached  the  limit  of  its  7,500,000  acre-feet.  Her  water 
men  have,  however,  been  searching  during  the  past  dozen  years 
for  the  missing  minutes  which  may  solve  the  riddle.  Meanwhile 
California  does  say  that  there  was  no  such  gentleman's  agree- 
ment; that  in  the  negotiations  and  congressional  debate  following 
the  Compact  agreement  no  such  claim  was  made;  that  Arizona's 
elaborate  explanation  of  III  b  was  concocted  at  a  time  when  she 
wanted  to  accept  the  Compact;  and  that  both  before  and  after 
the  1934  case  Arizona  actually  objected  to  the  document  on  the 
very  ground  that  it  did  not  define  her  right  to  the  Gila. 

While  it  might  be  true  that  the  1,000,000  acre-feet  represented 
Norviel's  triumph,  California  could  feel  fortunate  that  water  was 
not  allotted  in  the  Compact  according  to  the  zeal  of  each  com- 
missioner. As  one  of  her  present-day  water  men  remarked,  "Nor- 
viel was  the  best  commissioner  California  had." 

On  November  24,  1922,  the  seven  delegates  reached  final 
agreement  on  a  full  draft  of  the  Compact,  and  then  drove  into 
Santa  Fe  for  the  formal  signing.  At  the  historic  Governor's  Palace 
they  assembled  in  the  Ben  Hur  room,  where  Governor  Lew 


Wallace  had  penned  his  classic  novel.  Writing  on  the  same  lap- 
board  used  by  Wallace,  the  commissioners  placed  their  signatures 
on  the  document  and  made  an  irrevocable  division  of  the  Colo- 
rado. Herbert  Hoover  went  back  to  Washington  after  a  personal 
triumph  in  bringing  harmony  out  of  what  had  seemed  a  hopeless 
impasse.  And  Norviel  went  back  to  Arizona  in  a  state  of  nervous 

The  first  part  of  the  huge  bargain  had  been  made.  Colorado 
and  the  upper  states  had  gained  their  security  against  large-scale 
water  appropriations  in  the  south.  It  now  remained  for  the  state 
legislatures  to  ratify  the  instrument,  and  for  California  to  achieve 
its  part  of  the  trade — congressional  approval  of  Boulder  Dam. 
The  long  battle  for  the  waters  of  the  Colorado,  begun  with  the 
founding  of  Imperial  Valley,  was  only  half  finished. 

1 1 :     Tempest  in  Washington 

Early  in  1923  the  state  legislatures  took  up  the  Compact  and 
ratified  it  one  by  one.  In  California,  Mark  Rose  and  some  of  the 
water  people  opposed  it,  but  not  strongly  enough.  Herbert  Hoover 
made  speeches  in  Los  Angeles  and  San  Francisco  urging  its  adop- 
tion, and  finally  on  February  3  the  California  legislature  assented. 
By  the  time  Colorado  approved  it  on  April  2  six  states  had  rati- 
fied the  Santa  Fe  Compact. 

In  Arizona,  however,  the  agreement  struck  trouble.  The  Re- 
publican administration  which  had  negotiated  the  Compact  had 
been  defeated  in  the  fall  elections,  and  Democrat  George  W.  P. 
Hunt  had  resumed  his  long  reign  as  governor.  Arriving  in  Ari- 
zona as  a  cowpuncher  in  its  territorial  days,  Hunt  had  risen 
rapidly  in  local  politics  to  become  the  first  state  governor  in  1912. 
By  the  early  twenties  his  powerful  figure,  with  the  familiar  bald 
head  and  walrus  mustache,  had  become  a  dominating  institution 
in  Arizona  politics.  Intellectually  he  was  no  heavyweight,  but  he 
possessed  an  uncanny  political  acumen  which  almost  invariably 
landed  him  on  his  feet  at  election  time. 

As  the  Colorado  Compact  came  to  Arizona  under  Republican 
auspices,  Democrat  Hunt  opposed  it  on  principle  when  he  took 


office  after  the  1922  campaign.  As  the  new  legislature  convened 
at  Phoenix  in  January  1923,  Hunt  warned  in  his  opening  address 
against  a  water  agreement  which  might  be  giving  away  Arizona's 
"greatest  natural  resource." 

"In  laying  before  you  the  official  copy  of  the  compact,"  he  said 
dramatically,  "...  I  place  in  your  hands  the  future  destiny  of 

Thus  in  one  state  the  very  thing  happened  which  the  commis- 
sioners had  feared.  The  Colorado  Compact  became  a  political 
issue  between  opposing  parties.  Its  merits  were  therefore  lost  in 
the  maelstrom  of  partisan  charges  and  countercharges. 

Yet  the  force  which  proved  decisive  in  the  Compact  fight  was 
Arizona's  sudden  interest  in  the  resources  of  the  Colorado  River. 
Nothing  had  brought  this  transformation  more  than  the  pact 
itself,  which  made  the  state  doggedly  aware  of  her  water  necessi- 
ties. By  the  end  of  1922  an  engineering  commission  was  dragging 
instruments  across  Arizona  deserts,  searching  out  a  route  for  a 
gravity  canal  which  would  bring  Colorado  water  to  the  fertile 
lands  of  the  Phoenix  plateau. 

The  man  behind  this  movement  was  George  Maxwell,  a 
Phoenix  citizen  who  had  championed  Southwestern  irrigation 
projects  for  twenty-five  years.  In  the  18903  he  had  formed  the 
National  Reclamation  Association  and  helped  to  lead  the  fight  for 
federal  water  projects  in  general,  and  for  Salt  River  Valley  devel- 
opment in  particular.  More  than  any  other  man,  he  was  respon- 
sible for  securing  the  Reclamation  Act  of  1 902  and  the  construc- 
tion of  Roosevelt  Dam  which  immediately  followed. 

The  first  suggestion  for  the  gigantic  scheme  of  irrigating  mil- 
lions of  acres  in  central  Arizona  by  Colorado  water  was  an  article 
by  Maxwell  in  the  Los  Angeles  Times  as  early  as  1905.  But  his 
project  did  not  crystallize  until  after  World  War  I,  when  he 
settled  in  Phoenix  and  pursued  the  idea  with  the  characteristic 
zeal  that  had  already  carried  the  reclamation  fight. 

By  the  early  twenties  he  had  made  a  rough  survey  of  the  route 
and  determined  the  height  of  key  mountain  passes.  Then  he  laid 
out  "a  possible  plan  for  reclamation  of  ...  an  area  of  approxi- 
mately 2,000,000  acres  and  over."  It  required  a  dam  at  Bridge 
Canyon  (between  Boulder  and  the  Grand  Canyon),  a  tunnel 
some  eighty  miles  long,  and  several  hundred  miles  of  canal — 


altogether  a  project  bold  enough  to  make  a  practical  irrigation- 
ist's  hair  stand  on  end.  Bill  Mulholland,  viewing  it  with  "con- 
siderable amusement,"  dismissed  it  as  "absolutely  ridiculous." 
Phil  Swing  remarked  that  Maxwell  had  "the  advantage  over 
engineers  because  he  was  not  tied  down  to  the  facts."  When  A.  P. 
Davis  laughed  at  his  explanations  before  a  congressional  commit- 
tee Maxwell  was  furious. 

"I  never  knew  of  anything  that  was  really  big  being  built," 
roared  the  old  reclamationist,  "that  some  people  did  not  say  it 
was  impossible  beforehand." 

But  Maxwell  succeeded  in  convincing  Arizonans  that  his 
scheme  was  more  than  an  irrigationist's  dream.  Enlarging  on  his 
rough  plans,  an  engineering  committee  took  the  field  and  was  still 
working  out  a  report  when  the  legislature  began  its  consideration 
of  the  Compact  in  January  1923.  Some  of  the  engineers,  called 
in  for  consultation  by  the  Irrigation  Committee  of  the  upper 
house,  described  the  possibility  of  using  Colorado  water  "for 
generating  several  millions  of  horsepower  of  electric  energy  and 
for  reclaiming  more  than  two  millions  of  acres  of  arid  land,  all 
within  the  state  of  Arizona." 

After  that  the  Compact  ratification  was  doomed.  There  was 
enough  water  in  the  river  for  such  plans  as  these,  but  not  in  half 
the  river.  Almost  the  entire  allocation  for  the  lower  basin  would 
be  needed  for  2,000,000  acres;  but  at  the  rate  California  was 
appropriating  the  water,  there  would  be  little  left  by  the  time 
Arizona's  scheme  could  be  made  feasible.  Arizona  was  willing  to 
compete  with  the  entire  basin  for  the  use  of  the  river,  but  she 
could  not  afford  to  be  thrown  in  a  match  race  with  California 
for  half  of  it.  For  the  first  time  Arizona  now  realized  that  the 
Compact  would  leave  her  with  the  same  fate  from  which  it  had 
spared  the  upper  basin.  If  Arizona  ratified  the  instrument  she 
would  be  squeezed  between  the  upper  states  and  California. 

Leading  the  fight  against  ratification,  George  Maxwell  wrote 
articles  for  every  anti-pact  newspaper  in  the  state,  and  carried  his 
crusade  before  chambers  of  commerce  and  service  clubs.  In  the 
legislature  the  Compact  battle  waged  for  weeks  while  the  Repub- 
licans argued  for  ratification  and  the  Democrats  blocked  it.  After 
first  accepting  the  Compact  with  conditions,  then  with  certain 
"interpretations,"  the  legislature  finally  failed  to  ratify  by  a  tie 

vote  in  the  House  of  Representatives  on  March  8,  1923.  The  one 
chance  for  a  water  agreement  in  the  Southwest  had  been  killed. 
As  the  upper  states  would  allow  no  river  development  without  a 
compact,  the  biggest  victim  would  be  the  proposed  Boulder  Dam. 
California  was  paying  a  bitter  price  for  ignoring  its  water  men  at 
Santa  Fe. 

As  soon  as  Arizona's  rejection  became  known  in  the  other  basin 
states  she  encountered  a  chorus  of  criticism.  Failure  to  join  the 
other  six  states  in  a  Colorado  agreement  made  her  a  virtual  out- 
cast. Upper-basin  men  declared  that  until  the  Compact  was  rati- 
fied they  would  oppose  construction  anywhere  in  the  lower  basin 
— including  Arizona's  Gila  River.  A  California  newspaper  ran  a 
cartoon  picturing  Arizona  as  a  "dog  in  the  manger"  over  the 
Colorado  River.  One  Arizonan  answered  that  the  cartoon  should 
have  shown  California  as  a  "dog  running  away  with  the  bone." 

The  simple  fact  was  that  the  Compact  served  the  interest  of 
the  other  six  states  but  not  of  Arizona.  Through  it  the  upper  basin 
secured  unlimited  use  of  Colorado  water,  California  got  support 
for  Boulder  Dam,  and  Nevada  got  the  commercial  benefits  of  the 
dam's  construction.  Arizona  would  share  in  the  latter,  but  it  had 
bigger  reclamation  plans  which  were  blasted  by  a  fifty-fifty  divi- 
sion of  the  Colorado. 

"Santa  Fe  is  not  Sinai,"  insisted  one  Arizona  spokesman.  "The 
Compact  is  nothing  but  a  contract  between  interested  parties.  It 
is  not  divine.  No  other  state  has  shown  any  altruism  in  this 
transaction,  but  Arizona  alone  has  not  posed  as  being  benevo- 

Neither  was  the  state  sparing  in  its  self-interest.  Since  the  site  for 
Boulder  Dam  was  too  far  down  the  river  to  permit  a  gravity  canal 
to  the  Phoenix  area,  Arizona  had  no  more  use  for  it  than  for  the 
Compact.  Its  main  effect,  said  the  Arizonans,  would  be  to  regulate 
the  flow  of  the  river,  increasing  its  low-water  stage,  so  that  more 
land  could  be  cultivated  in  Lower  California.  If  it  was  true  that 
there  was  less  water  in  the  river  than  could  be  used  by  all  the 
arable  land  in  the  basin,  the  more  water  Mexico  put  to  use  the 
less  would  be  available  for  Arizona  when  its  great  plans  ma- 

Harry  Chandler  and  his  Mexican  lands,  already  the  foe  of 
Imperial  Valley,  now  became  the  great  bugaboo  for  Arizona.  In 


Imperial  he  was  said  to  be  fighting  Boulder  Dam  because  it  made 
an  All-American  Canal  possible.  In  Arizona  he  was  said  to  be 
the  guiding  power  behind  Boulder  Dam  because  it  would  yield 
him  more  irrigating  water.  It  was  an  ironic  demonstration  that 
nothing  helps  a  cause  so  much  as  the  right  enemies. 

Nor  were  Arizona's  demands  confined  to  water.  The  millions 
of  horsepower  in  hydroelectric  energy  stored  in  the  Colorado 
canyon  were  looked  upon  by  Arizonans  as  part  of  their  state's 
natural  resources.  When  California  proposed  to  build  Boulder 
Dam  and  use  some  of  this  potential  water  power,  Arizona  levied 
her  demand:  a  royalty  on  every  kilowatt  equal  to  the  tax  that 
could  be  expected  from  a  private  corporation.  Since  Arizona  was 
equally  vigorous  in  fighting  the  project  itself,  Californians  looked 
upon  this  new  requirement  as  a  consideration  for  her  acquies- 
cence on  Boulder  Dam.  The  irate  mayor  of  San  Diego,  John  L. 
Bacon,  simply  called  it  "hush  money."  Arizonans  called  it  a 
royalty  tax  for  the  use  of  a  natural  resource. 

Meanwhile  Boulder  Dam  itself  was  vigorously  opposed  by 
George  Maxwell  and  his  "High-Liners,"  as  the  group  was  called 
which  clamored  for  a  high-line  canal  from  the  Colorado  to  cen- 
tral Arizona.  Through  articles,  speeches,  and  mass  meetings  they 
made  Arizona  believe  she  was  the  intended  victim  of  a  California 
conspiracy.  The  irrepressible  Maxwell  made  the  anti-dam  fight 
the  crusade  of  his  National  Reclamation  Association;  up  and 
down  Arizona  he  went  on  a  membership  drive,  backing  his  words 
with  a  formidable  pamphlet  against  the  project. 

"Now  that  means,"  he  would  say,  shoving  the  leaflet  before  a 
prospective  member,  "that  the  construction  profit  goes  to  Las 
Vegas;  the  franchise  goes  to  Nevada;  the  power  goes  to  Los 
Angeles;  the  water  goes  to  Mexico;  and  Arizona  goes  to  hell." 

The  appeal  was  irresistible,  if  the  facts  were  not.  Except  in 
those  sections  along  the  river  which  would  benefit  by  the  dam, 
Arizona  sentiment  was  formed  solidly  against  it  by  the  end  of 
1924.  Even  Republicans  who  supported  the  Compact  had  noth- 
ing but  hostility  for  the  "California  scheme."  No  candidate  for 
public  office  could  afford  to  miss  a  chance  for  a  blast  at  Boulder. 

Across  the  Colorado,  California  was  equally  fired  in  favor  of 
the  dam  and  all  the  water  and  power  development  it  promised. 
In  May  1923  delegates  from  Imperial  and  Coachella  valleys,  Los 


Angeles  and  San  Diego,  and  every  community  which  looked  to 
the  Colorado  for  its  growth,  met  at  Fullerton  and  formed  the 
Boulder  Dam  Association,  "to  advance  by  all  legitimate  means 
the  construction  by  the  Government  of  the  Boulder  Dam  and 
All-American  Canal.  .  .  ."  Led  by  Mayors  John  L.  Bacon  of  San 
Diego  and  S.  C.  Evans  of  Riverside,  it  became  a  clearinghouse  for 
publicity  and  political  strategy  on  the  Swing- Johnson  bill.  South- 
ern Californians  were  showered  with  pamphlets  and  besieged 
with  speeches  on  the  development  in  store  for  their  section 
through  the  great  dam.  A  formidable  lobby  of  the  ablest  men 
was  maintained  in  Washington  at  every  session  of  Congress  to 
support  Swing  and  Johnson  in  their  fight.  W.  B.  Mathews,  per- 
sonal friend  and  political  pillar  of  Hiram  Johnson,  became  such 
a  familiar  figure  in  the  Capitol  that  he  earned  the  nickname, 
"California's  Third  Senator."  Providing  a  background  of  con- 
stant agitation  was  the  Hearst  newspaper  chain,  which  was  wed- 
ded to  the  project  from  the  beginning  by  its  advocacy  of  govern- 
ment reclamation,  public  power,  and  Hiram  Johnson. 

Natural  enemies  of  this  combination  were  the  Los  Angeles 
Times  and  the  electric-power  utilities  of  Southern  California. 
They  favored  a  dam  for  flood  control  only  on  the  Colorado 
River,  and  objected  to  the  government's  building  any  structure 
high  enough  to  put  it  in  the  power  business.  Imperial  Valley  was 
also  aware  of  opposition  to  the  All-American  Canal  by  the  Times, 
whose  owner  held  vast  acreages  of  cotton  lands  below  the  border. 

A  major  test  of  strength  between  the  two  factions  came  in  the 
Los  Angeles  city  elections  of  1924,  when  Boulder  Dam  was  the 
main  political  issue.  In  spite  of  furious  campaigning  by  the 
Times,  nearly  every  Boulder  supporter  was  swept  into  office  by  a 
rousing  majority.  The  popular  sentiment  had  already  been  sensed 
by  Dr.  John  R.  Haynes,  Southland  Republican  leader  and  chair- 
man of  the  Los  Angeles  water  and  power  board.  He  wrote  Calvin 
Coolidge  that  presidential  support  for  Boulder  Dam  would  be 
not  only  "right,  just,  and  proper,"  but  "tactful  and  politic." 
When  Coolidge's  Southern  California  campaign  manager  later 
advised  the  same  thing  to  help  carry  the  state,  the  President 
broke  his  silence  on  Boulder  Dam. 

"I  am  in  favor  of  a  high  dam  at  or  near  Boulder  Canyon,"  he 
announced  in  October  1924,  ".  .  .  and  I  believe  that  the  United 


States  Government  is  the  proper  agency  to  undertake  the  work." 

Undoubtedly  the  move  helped  Goolidge  to  carry  California  in 
the  campaign  of  1924.  From  that  year  on  Boulder  Dam  was  as 
much  a  political  band  wagon  for  California  office  seekers  as  it 
was  a  political  whipping  boy  for  those  in  Arizona. 

Greatest  campaigner  of  all  was  the  drought  of  the  early  twen- 
ties. If  any  doubt  of  the  dam's  necessity  remained  in  Imperial,  it 
was  dispelled  when  the  farmers  used  the  entire  Colorado  River 
for  seventy- three  straight  days  in  the  late  summer  of  1924,  and 
still  saw  some  crops  wither  of  thirst.  California  cities  which  de- 
pended on  Sierra  streams  for  electric  power  suddenly  faced  a 
critical  shortage.  E.  F.  Scattergood  of  the  Los  Angeles  power 
bureau  declared  that  only  Boulder  Dam  could  save  the  city  from 
a  loss  of  investment  and  assure  its  continued  growth. 

As  early  as  1923,  Los  Angeles  was  looking  to  the  Colorado  for 
more  than  power.  Years  of  sparse  snowfall  on  the  Sierras  had 
made  the  city's  Owens  River  aqueduct  a  trickling  stream.  Shrewd 
old  Bill  Mulholland  knew  the  loss  of  San  Fernando  Valley  crops 
was  only  the  beginning.  If  he  did  not  begin  to  plan  now  for  a 
new  source  of  water  Los  Angeles  would  find  its  mushroom  growth 
cut  off  abruptly. 

Through  the  early  twenties  a  deluge  of  population  was  bursting 
Los  Angeles  at  the  seams.  The  sudden  doubling  of  population 
after  its  1920  census  of  576,000  amazed  its  water  men  and  upset 
their  calculations  for  the  future.  Without  a  new  water  hole  for 
this  Southwestern  giant,  the  next  drought  might  attack  not  only 
crops  but  lives. 

In  October  1923,  Mulholland  took  a  small  corps  of  friends  and 
engineers  from  the  Water  Department  and  boarded  the  Union 
Pacific  for  Las  Vegas,  Nevada.  On  the  banks  of  the  Colorado 
they  looked  down  at  the  brown  serpent  gliding  below. 

"Well,"  observed  the  Chief,  "here's  where  we  get  our  water." 

The  prospect  was  breath-taking.  Water  would  have  to  be 
pumped  out  of  the  canyon  and  over  several  mountain  ranges  to 
the  coastal  plain.  Here  was  no  Owens  River  aqueduct,  with  its 
downhill  flow  all  the  way  to  Los  Angeles.  As  an  engineering  feat 
it  would  have  few  rivals;  this  would  be,  as  Mulholland  realized, 
"the  largest  aqueduct  the  world  has  ever  seen." 

Plunging  into  the  river  with  two  boats,  the  Chief  and  his  com- 


panions  rode  downstream  through  Boulder  Canyon.  Below  Parker 
they  left  the  water  and  headed  westward  again  on  the  Santa  Fe. 
They  had  seen  enough  of  this  "last  water  hole"  to  be  convinced 
that  Los  Angeles  could  safely  bid  for  a  share. 

From  then  on  the  city  moved  quickly,  driven  by  unparalleled 
drought.  High  up  in  the  Sierras,  where  snow  should  have  been 
packed  fifteen  to  twenty  feet  deep,  there  was  only  a  scattering  of 
it  in  shaded  gorges  during  the  winter  of  1 924. 

"This  drought  is  one  of  the  most  appalling  things  that  could 
happen,"  admitted  Mulholland.  "We  have  never  even  half  con- 
ceived of  such  a  thing." 

In  July  1924,  Mulholland  filed  for  1500  second-feet  of  Colo- 
rado water — nearly  four  times  the  capacity  of  the  Owens  River 
aqueduct.  In  acre-feet  per  year  it  measured  out  to  more  than 
1,000,000 — just  about  one  eighth  of  the  share  allotted  the  lower 
basin  by  the  Compact.  That  same  year  Phil  Swing  introduced 
Mulholland  before  the  House  Irrigation  Committee  in  Washing- 
ton as  a  new  proponent  of  Boulder  Dam. 

"I  am  here  in  the  interest  of  a  domestic  water  supply  for  the 
city  of  Los  Angeles,"  Mulholland  told  the  congressmen;  "and  that 
injects  a  new  phase  into  this  whole  matter." 

It  did  indeed.  The  committee  was  impressed  by  his  plea  for 
municipal  water.  Arizona  redoubled  her  opposition  to  Boulder 
Dam,  which  would  help  California  appropriate  more  of  the  river. 
Upper  states  representatives  were  more  determined  than  ever  to 
resist  the  dam  until  the  Colorado  Compact  became  effective  by 
Arizona's  ratification.  In  Southern  California  the  possibility  of  a 
Colorado  aqueduct  brought  new  water-scarce  communities  to  the 
Boulder  Dam  banner.  Over  a  forty-year  period  the  315  square 
miles  of  artesian  area  around  Los  Angeles  had  shrunk  to  a  scant 
55  miles  through  unrestricted  pumping.  Wells  that  had  yielded 
strong  artesian  fountains  at  the  turn  of  the  century  now  held  their 
water  fifty  and  more  feet  below  the  surface.  Pasadena,  Santa 
Monica,  Long  Beach,  San  Bernardino,  and  almost  every  nearby 
city  became  enthusiastic  members  of  the  Boulder  Dam  Asso- 

By  1 925  most  of  them  had  begun  to  organize  into  a  Metropoli- 
tan Water  District,  which  would  undertake  to  build  the  great 
aqueduct  from  the  Colorado.  So  great  was  popular  feeling  for  the 


program  that  when  the  California  legislature  refused  to  grant  the 
proposed  district  a  charter  those  members  who  voted  against  it 
were  turned  out  at  the  next  election.  In  1927  the  legislature  was 
careful  to  authorize  the  project,  and  the  following  year  Los 
Angeles,  Pasadena,  and  a  handful  of  charter  cities  founded  the 
Metropolitan  Water  District.  They  were  prepared  to  reach  four 
hundred  miles  across  the  desert  for  life-giving  water. 

Farther  down  the  coast  San  Diego  was  also  hard  hit  by 
drought.  Furiously  developing  all  possible  sources  in  its  nearby 
mountains,  she  turned  in  final  desperation  to  the  Colorado.  In 
April  1926,  San  Diego  filed  for  110,000  acre-feet  a  year  of  Colo- 
rado water,  and  set  about  discovering  a  route  for  an  aqueduct. 
Even  in  the  rural  communities — in  the  San  Gabriel  and  Santa 
Ana  valleys — citrus  and  vegetable  farmers  were  looking  to  the 
Colorado  for  relief. 

Through  the  twenties  Boulder  Dam,  the  All-American  Canal, 
and  the  Colorado  Aqueduct  became  Southern  California's  great 
hope  for  continued  expansion.  Every  community  from  the  river 
to  the  coast  rallied  behind  Johnson  and  Swing  with  a  continuous 
barrage  of  publicity,  political  pressure,  and  irresistible  enthu- 

But  in  Washington,  Phil  Swing  was  finding  that  Boulder  Dam 
faced  formidable  competition.  No  matter  how  meritorious  his 
project,  there  were  a  dozen  others  already  demanding  the  atten- 
tion of  the  nation.  Introducing  a  revised  Boulder  Canyon  bill  in 
December  1923,  Swing  opened  the  second  round  of  his  campaign 
before  the  House  Irrigation  Committee  the  following  month.  In 
his  initial  speech  he  began  by  comparing  Boulder  with  other  na- 
tional projects,  hoping  to  convince  the  committee  of  its  prior 
importance.  But  to  water-minded  Westerners,  who  composed  the 
group,  Swing  had  merely  opened  a  Pandora's  box  of  pet  reclama- 
tion schemes. 

"Mr.  Swing,"  interrupted  the  congressman  from  Oregon,  "in 
mentioning  these  great  projects  do  you  not  overlook  the  Umatilla 
Rapids  project?" 

"Do  not  overlook  the  Great  Salt  Lake  basin  project,"  added 
the  Utah  representative.  By  this  time  Swing  realized  his  mistake. 

"Do  not  forget  that  we  have  a  big  project  in  Montana." 

"Also  the  Pit  River  project  in  California.  I  just  wanted  to  get 
that  in." 

"And  please  do  not  forget  the  San  Carlos  project  in  Arizona." 

Swing  was  offering  to  let  them  submit  a  written  list  for  the 
record  when  the  Kansas  member  interrupted : 

"I  would  like  to  say  a  word  in  behalf  of  the  Missouri  River." 

This  was  enough  to  snap  Swing's  patience. 

"Of  course,"  he  cut  in  sweetly,  "the  Missouri  River  will  live 
forever,  both  in  song  and  poetry.  Mark  Twain  made  it  famous." 

Before  the  Kansan  could  elaborate,  Swing  hurried  on  with  his 
Boulder  Dam  speech,  having  learned  a  lesson  in  water  geography 
and  the  ways  of  congressmen.  He  knew  already  that  persuasion 
alone  would  not  carry  Boulder  Dam  through  the  two-ring  con- 
gressional circus.  After  two  years  of  fruitless  argument  Swing  de- 
cided on  a  change  of  tactics.  Henceforth  he  would  become  a 
listener;  he  would  be  one  of  the  most  sympathetic  men  in  Con- 
gress on  other  states'  projects.  In  the  end  it  proved  the  key  for- 
mula in  winning  friends  for  Boulder  Dam. 

It  also  gave  enough  alarm  to  the  project's  enemies  to  make 
them  rally  in  desperate  opposition.  An  association  of  electric 
companies  set  up  a  headquarters  in  Washington  to  fight  the  pas- 
sage of  Boulder  Dam  and  other  government  power  measures. 
The  Arizona  High-Liners  pleaded  that  Boulder  Dam  was  too  far 
down  the  river  to  serve  their  state  with  a  gravity  flow,  and  in- 
sisted that  Congress  choose  a  site  farther  upstream  for  the  Colo- 
rado's first  dam.  But  to  this  argument  A.  P.  Davis,  Herbert 
Hoover,  and  other  engineers  had  an  undeniable  answer :  no  other 
large  storage  site  was  within  practical  transmission  distance  of 
the  power  market  in  Southern  California,  and  no  other  was  far 
enough  downstream  to  control  the  heavy  silt  discharge  of  the 
Little  Colorado  and  Virgin  tributaries. 

Arizona,  however,  had  another  formidable  point.  Engineer  E. 
C.  La  Rue,  who  had  helped  make  the  initial  survey  for  the  high 
line,  came  to  the  House  hearings  fresh  from  a  trip  down  the 
Colorado  with  the  Geological  Survey.  Boulder  Dam,  he  said, 
would  equalize  the  flow  of  the  river,  making  a  bigger  volume  in 
the  low-water  stage.  Thus  while  Arizona  was  denied  a  supply  by 
the  dam's  location,  Harry  Chandler's  Mexican  lands  would  be 
able  to  establish  new  and  bigger  rights  to  the  river's  flow.  His 


studies  showed,  moreover,  that  the  United  States  could  not  afford 
to  do  this,  as  there  was  not  enough  water  in  the  river  to  supply  all 
irrigable  lands  in  the  basin. 

This  statement  took  the  committee  by  surprise.  One  member 
excitedly  observed,  "So  far  all  the  evidence  before  the  committee 
has  been  all  the  other  way — that  there  was  enough  water  on  this 

"I  have  always  understood  it  that  way,"  agreed  another. 

"That  makes  this  question  very  important." 

"It  does." 

But  La  Rue's  story  could  not  be  shaken.  He  later  reappeared 
with  statistics  to  prove  that  over  900,000  arable  acres  must  go 
unirrigated  somewhere.  Phil  Swing  pointed  out  that  the  Imperial 
Irrigation  District  could  prevent  any  benefit  to  Mexico  from 
Boulder  Dam  by  taking  the  added  water  into  its  All-American 
Canal  at  the  crucial  seasons.  Arizona,  however,  would  not  be 
talked  out  of  her  new  and  effective  slogan :  "For  every  acre  put 
under  irrigation  in  Mexico  by  Boulder  Dam,  one  acre  in  America 
is  forever  condemned  to  desert." 

Bolstered  by  this  weapon,  the  Arizona  forces  redoubled  their 
attack  when  the  Boulder  fight  shifted  to  the  Senate  side.  But  as 
hearings  began  in  earnest  before  the  Irrigation  Committee  in  the 
fall  of  1925  they  faced  the  implacable  figure  of  California's 
Hiram  Johnson.  Calling  upon  his  early  training  as  a  courtroom 
prosecutor,  the  veteran  lawmaker  moved  against  the  Arizona  wit- 
nesses with  relentless  cross-examination.  When  La  Rue  claimed 
that  Boulder  Dam  could  not  be  fitted  into  the  best  plan  for  de- 
veloping the  river  Johnson  showed  him  no  mercy.  Where,  he 
queried,  did  Mr.  La  Rue  think  the  first  Colorado  dam  should  be 
built?  The  witness  hedged,  stating  that  the  other  sites  had  not 
been  drilled  for  depth  of  bedrock. 

"So  that  you  cannot  say  definitely  at  this  time,"  prodded  John- 
son, "which  dam  would  first  be  built  under  your  plan?" 

"No,  sir." 

"Nor  where  it  should  be  built?" 

"No,  sir,"  repeated  La  Rue,  and  attempted  to  explain. 

Johnson  cut  him  off,  insisting,  "As  I  understand  you,  you  are 
not  able  at  the  present  time,  with  the  data  at  your  command,  to 
suggest  a  definite  substitute.  Now  is  that  statement  correct?" 


"Well,  unfortunately  it  is  correct,"  croaked  the  harassed  La 
Rue.  "And  that  is  the  reason  why  we  should  not  have  a  dam 
built  on  that  river  until  we  have  the  information." 

"I  think  'unfortunately  it  is  correct,'  "  mocked  Johnson,  clinch- 
ing his  argument.  "I  think  we  now  understand  the  situation." 

The  triumph  was  the  beginning  of  the  end  of  La  Rue's  impres- 
sive testimony.  Bombarded  with  technical  questions  from  other 
committee  members,  he  protested  that  he  could  not  carry  all  the 
figures  in  his  head.  Finally  he  exploded  bitterly  that  he  had 
worked  months  on  his  calculations,  "and  if  you  can  figure  out 
mistakes  in  these,  or  suggest  a  better  plan  in  a  few  minutes  in  this 
room,  it  would  seem  to  me  to  be  nothing  short  of  a  miracle." 

His  cause  scarcely  advanced  by  this  outburst,  La  Rue  next 
found  his  technical  claims  challenged  by  Frank  Weymouth,  a 
distinguished  Reclamation  Bureau  engineer  who  had  completed 
a  ponderous  report  favoring  Boulder  Dam  the  year  before.  He 
testified  that  La  Rue's  plan  for  developing  the  river,  which  left 
out  Boulder  completely,  would  waste  more  water  and  generate 
less  power  than  the  Reclamation  Bureau  plan. 

But  despite  this  setback  the  Arizonans  continued  to  champion 
La  Rue  and  his  river  report.  They  now  had  engineering  data  of 
their  own  with  which  to  attack  Boulder  Dam.  Against  its  wit- 
nesses they  turned  with  the  same  ferocity  that  Johnson  displayed 
against  their  own.  At  length  Arizona's  tall  and  fiery  champion, 
Senator  Henry  Ashurst,  loosed  a  memorable  threat : 

"Arizona  asks  that  this  dam  be  placed  high  enough  up  the 
river  so  that  we  may  irrigate  our  uplands.  The  Colorado  River 
is  Arizona's  jugular  vein;  sever  our  jugular  vein  and  we  die.  We 
have  asked  you  in  polite  language  and  we  now  ask  in  vehement 
language  to  build  the  dam  far  enough  up  the  river." 

The  stalemate  over  the  Colorado  continued  on  every  front  in 
1925.  In  Congress  the  Swing- Johnson  bill  was  shunted  aside  by 
being  referred  to  an  engineering  committee  "for  further  study." 
Negotiations  between  Arizona  and  California  on  a  lower-basin 
agreement  were  deadlocked.  Arizonans  were  insisting  they  would 
never  ratify  the  Colorado  Compact  without  such  a  lower  states 
pact;  Colorado  and  the  upper  states  were  equally  determined  to 
oppose  Boulder  Dam  until  Arizona's  ratification  made  the  Com- 
pact effective. 

There  still  seemed  hope  of  unlocking  this  log  jam  when  the 
Arizona  legislature  convened  in  1925.  Irreconcilable  old  George 
Hunt  had  been  re-elected  governor  on  an  anti-Compact,  anti- 
Boulder,  anti-California  campaign.  But  the  pro-Compact  faction 
had  captured  the  chairmanship  in  both  legislative  houses.  The 
Interior  Department,  two  congressional  committees,  and  six  states 
now  waited  in  the  hope  that  Arizona  would  ratify. 

A  tremendous  fight  developed  in  both  chambers  that  had  the 
Phoenix  Capitol  fairly  trembling  by  the  second  week  in  March. 
On  the  eleventh  a  crowd  of  "anti-pactists"  gathered  in  the  Capi- 
tol's first-floor  corridor,  heard  speeches  from  George  Maxwell 
and  other  High-Liners,  and  made  their  presence  known  by  the 
angry  noise  that  drifted  to  the  legislative  chambers  upstairs.  After 
a  stormy  debate  the  House  of  Representatives  ratified  the  instru- 
ment with  heavy  reservations,  including  a  stipulation  that  the 
Gila  River  be  reserved  for  Arizona  outside  the  Compact's  allot- 

But  when  it  was  proposed  that  Governor  Hunt's  approval  was 
necessary  for  final  ratification,  taut  nerves  snapped  and  the 
chamber  almost  exploded.  Republicans  and  Democrats  shouted 
each  other  down  while  the  chairman  pounded  for  order.  One 
member  challenged  another  to  meet  him  outside;  three  excited 
speakers  had  to  be  forced  to  their  seats  by  the  sergeant  at  arms. 
At  last  the  amendment  for  the  governor's  approval  was  defeated 
in  a  close  vote. 

On  the  other  side  of  the  Capitol  an  aroused  Senate  first  re- 
jected the  Compact,  then  reversed  itself  and  ratified.  Seven  copies 
of  the  final  joint  resolution,  laden  with  reservations,  were  handed 
over  to  the  Secretary  of  State  for  transmission  to  the  other  basin 
states  and  the  federal  government.  But  he  simply  turned  about 
and  faithfully  delivered  them  to  Governor  Hunt,  who  declared 
the  ratification  "void,  worthless,  and  of  no  effect."  Though  his 
outraged  opponents  charged  that  he  had  no  right  to  veto  a  rati- 
fication, Hunt  made  his  action  stick. 

"I'll  be  damned,"  he  bellowed  at  the  next  election,  "if  Cali- 
fornia ever  will  have  any  water  from  the  Colorado  River  as  long 
as  I  am  governor  of  Arizona." 

In  spite  of  pugnacious  "George  V,"  as  his  enemies  called  him, 
there  was  still  hope  that  Arizona  and  California  water  men  might 


be  able  to  agree  on  a  lower-basin  compact.  On  August  17,  1925, 
representatives  of  the  two  states,  together  with  those  of  Nevada, 
gathered  around  a  conference  table  in  Phoenix  and  began  the 
first  of  a  series  of  bargaining  sessions  that  have  lasted  for  twenty- 
five  years.  The  meeting  was  almost  doomed  from  the  start.  Gov- 
ernor Hunt  opened  it  with  a  partisan  speech  that  cast  doubts  on 
Boulder  Dam  and  almost  sounded  like  an  ultimatum  on  Arizona's 
river  rights.  The  California  delegation  was  furious. 

"I  would  like  to  ask,"  its  leader  demanded  of  the  Arizona 
group,  "whether  or  not  the  address  of  Governor  Hunt  expresses 
the  sentiment  of  the  committee." 

A  heated  exchange  followed  that  lasted  through  the  rest  of  the 
session.  California  and  Nevada  insisted  that  Arizona  agree  to 
Boulder  Dam  before  discussing  a  lower-basin  compact.  Arizona 
countered  that  she  would  have  to  know  the  details  of  the  dam's 
operation  before  she  could  even  consider  agreeing.  Behind  their 
maneuvering  was  some  hard  strategy;  undoubtedly  Arizona 
wanted  to  use  her  approval  of  Boulder  Dam  as  a  trump  card  in 
the  negotiations,  while  California  and  Nevada  wanted  the  card 
played  first  to  reduce  Arizona's  bargaining  power.  At  length  it 
was  obvious  that  neither  side  would  relent. 

"I  think  that  it  is  a  waste  of  time  to  attempt  to  negotiate  any 
further,"  concluded  the  California  chairman. 

"You  want  us  to  sign  on  the  dotted  line,  do  you?"  retorted  an 

"No,  I  don't  want  you  to  sign  anything." 

It  was  a  fair  description  of  the  situation.  That  first  conference 
broke  up  with  little  will  to  agree  in  either  camp.  To  a  large  extent 
Arizonans  thought  that  by  obstructing  the  Colorado  Compact 
they  could  block  Boulder  Dam.  At  the  same  time  other  events 
were  stirring  in  the  Colorado  basin  that  made  Calif ornians  be- 
lieve they  could  get  Boulder  Dam  regardless  of  Arizona. 

It  was  the  resourceful  Delph  Carpenter  of  Colorado  who  first 
presented  an  alternate  plan.  Since  Arizona  would  not  ratify  the 
seven-state  Compact,  he  argued,  why  not  a  six-state  compact?  So 
long  as  California  could  be  pinned  down  to  a  water  division,  the 
upper  basin  might  take  its  chances  with  Arizona.  After  getting 
the  approval  of  other  leaders  in  the  Rocky  Mountain  states,  Car- 
penter took  his  proposition  to  California.  He  found  its  water 

men  agreeable  enough;  a  six-state  compact  would  require  new 
ratification  by  the  legislature,  and  they  would  have  a  chance  to 
attach  a  proviso  for  construction  of  a  high  dam  at  Boulder.  At 
last  they  could  make  certain  that  the  Compact  would  work  for 
California's  cause. 

The  new  six-state  Compact  was  submitted  to  the  upper-basin 
legislatures  in  February  1925.  Utah,  Colorado,  and  New  Mexico 
promptly  ratified  it,  as  did  Nevada  of  the  lower  basin.  In  Wyo- 
ming the  legislature  killed  the  new  pact  on  the  last  night  of  its 
session;  but  Governor  Frank  Emerson,  who  had  helped  to  frame 
the  Compact  at  Santa  Fe,  held  the  lawmakers  in  continuous  ses- 
sion until  they  decided  to  ratify. 

California's  legislature  took  up  the  six-state  Compact  late  in 
February  1925.  Attached  to  it,  in  what  became  known  as  the 
Finney  Resolution,  was  the  proviso  that  ratification  by  California 
would  take  place  whenever  Congress  authorized  a  20,000,000- 
acre-foot  reservoir  "at  or  below  Boulder  Canyon." 

Implications  in  the  move  raised  immediate  protests.  Such  huge 
storage  meant  a  high  dam,  and  a  high  dam  meant  hydroelectric 
power.  California's  utility  companies  did  not  intend  to  let  the 
Los  Angeles  Bureau  of  Water  and  Power  write  such  a  rider  into 
the  Compact.  Their  agents  in  Sacramento  quickly  organized 
against  the  bill.  The  Los  Angeles  Chamber  of  Commerce  and 
Harry  Chandler's  Times  joined  the  opposition.  Governors  of 
upper-basin  states  served  notice  that  they  would  not  countenance 
such  a  reservation  in  the  Compact.  Herbert  Hoover  sent  a  hur- 
ried telegram  to  the  California  governor;  if  the  legislature  made 
any  reservations,  he  warned,  "the  whole  Compact  will  need  to  be 
abandoned  and  we  will  have  another  setback  for  five  years  in  the 
development  of  the  river." 

But  at  the  same  time  the  Los  Angeles  water  men,  the  Imperial 
Irrigation  District,  the  Boulder  Dam  Association,  and  Hiram 
Johnson's  political  forces  in  California  all  swung  behind  the 
Finney  Resolution.  After  heated  debate  in  both  houses  it  passed 
by  large  majorities  on  April  5,  1925,  and  was  signed  into  law. 
Mark  Rose  and  the  I.I.D.  immediately  sent  their  congratulations 
to  the  legislature  for  "having  stood  stanchly  by  the  people  against 
the  corporate  interests.  .  .  ."  But  the  Los  Angeles  Times  berated 
the  act  next  day  under  the  headline,  "Colorado  Compact  Killed." 

At  first  the  reactions  among  the  upper  states  bore  out  the  fear 
that  the  Finney  Resolution  was  a  dangerous  expedient.  While 
Californians  insisted  that  it  merely  established  a  date  for  ratifica- 
tion, upper  states  representatives  called  it  a  reservation  which 
threw  a  new  wrench  into  the  Compact  machinery.  California, 
they  insisted,  was  obstructing  Colorado  development  as  much  as 
Arizona.  When  the  Senate  Irrigation  Committee  resumed  con- 
sideration of  the  Boulder  Dam  bill  in  December  1925,  Delph 
Carpenter  was  on  hand  to  block  it. 

"Had  California  adopted  the  six-state  Compact  as  the  other 
states  did,"  he  angrily  told  the  committee,  "the  Compact  would 
be  before  you  now  and  the  whole  question  could  now  be  settled." 

Senators  from  the  Rocky  Mountain  states  joined  Carpenter  in 
claiming  that  California  had  killed  the  six-state  Compact.  Hiram 
Johnson  was  forcibly  denying  the  charge  when  William  H.  King 
of  Utah  interrupted  him. 

"Some  of  us  think  contrary,  Senator,"  he  shouted,  "and  feel 
that  California  did  destroy  the  Compact.  We  feel  that  no  action 
can  be  taken  by  Congress  until  California  withdraws  her  reser- 

There  the  matter  stood  in  a  deadlock  that  resembled  a  vicious 
circle.  California  would  not  ratify  the  Compact  until  Boulder 
Dam  was  assured.  The  upper  states  would  not  allow  Boulder 
Dam  until  California  ratified  unconditionally.  Behind  the  stale- 
mate was  California's  fear  of  the  private  power  interests.  Her 
public  water  and  power  boosters  believed  the  upper  states  were 
motivated  by  the  utility  companies  in  their  opposition  to  Boulder. 
California  would  therefore  take  no  chances  on  dividing  the  water 
without  being  certain  that  the  upper  states  would  actually  fulfill 
their  bargain  and  support  the  dam. 

For  more  than  a  year  the  determination  of  upper-basin  con- 
gressmen blocked  any  progress  on  the  Swing-Johnson  bill.  In 
October  1926  the  California  governor,  hoping  to  break  the  inter- 
state deadlock,  called  the  legislature  into  special  session  to  with- 
draw the  Finney  Resolution.  But  the  Boulder  Dam  advocates, 
rising  in  protest,  beat  down  the  proposal  for  repeal. 

The  upper  states,  having  waited  for  the  outcome  of  the  vote, 
now  realized  that  California's  stand  was  irrevocable.  Their  water 
men  met  in  Denver  and  drafted  some  twenty  amendments  to  the 


Swing- Johnson  bill  for  protection  of  their  water  rights.  Ward 
Bannister  took  them  to  Washington  and  told  the  House  Irrigation 
Committee  that  if  they  were  accepted  the  upper  basin  would 
support  Boulder  Dam.  Phil  Swing  and  Hiram  Johnson  were 
prompt  in  accepting  them,  and  it  seemed  that  the  interstate  row 
had  been  patched  at  last. 

But  Utah  was  irreconcilable.  When  California's  legislature 
failed  to  withdraw  its  storage  proviso  the  Utah  governor  deplored 
the  act  in  a  heated  letter. 

"Apparently  California  is  in  no  hurry  to  have  the  Swing- John- 
son bill  passed,"  he  told  California's  governor.  "Neither  is  Utah." 

Early  in  December,  when  the  Swing- Johnson  bill  came  out  of 
both  committees  with  a  "do  pass"  recommendation,  Congressman 
Leatherwood  of  Utah  wrote  his  governor  that  California  was 
making  dangerous  headway.  Utah,  he  said,  could  block  her  by 
withdrawing  from  the  six-state  Compact,  thus  leaving  the  basin 
once  again  without  a  water  agreement.  Early  in  January  1927  a 
bill  was  introduced  in  the  Utah  legislature  to  repeal  its  rati- 

At  the  same  time  the  powerful  House  Rules  Committee, 
through  which  all  bills  must  be  cleared  for  floor  debate,  agreed 
to  consider  Swing's  application  for  a  right  of  way  on  Thursday, 
January  20.  Utah's  congressional  delegation  then  offered  an 
amendment  to  the  Boulder  Dam  bill,  which  was  supposedly  re- 
jected, though  Swing  claimed  he  had  never  heard  of  it.  All  four 
of  the  Utah  members  of  Congress — two  senators,  two  congress- 
men— thereupon  sent  their  state  legislature  a  peremptory  wire: 

"California's  representatives  refuse  to  consider  amendment  to 
protect  Utah's  interest  in  Boulder  Dam  bill.  .  .  .  Utah  legisla- 
ture should  take  whatever  action  it  deems  proper  at  once,  but  not 
later  than  January  19." 

Obviously  the  "proper  action"  was  the  repeal  of  the  six-state 
Compact,  to  cut  the  ground  from  under  the  Swing- Johnson  bill. 
But  the  president  of  Utah's  state  Senate  had  little  imagination. 
He  wired  back  for  an  explanation.  The  exasperated  congressmen 
dropped  their  courtesy. 

"All  we  want  is  repeal  of  the  six-state  Compact,"  shot  back 
Utah's  veteran  Senator  Reed  Smoot.  ".  .  .  Pass  bill  Monday." 

The  order  has  since  become  famous.  Utah's  legislature  obedi- 

ently  repealed  its  Compact  ratification  on  Monday,  January  17. 
The  six-state  Compact,  which  would  have  gone  into  effect  with 
the  passage  of  the  Swing- Johnson  bill,  was  now  smashed.  The 
entire  upper  basin  would  have  to  oppose  Boulder  Dam.  It  would 
now  be  a  near  miracle  if  Swing  got  his  bill  past  the  House  Rules 

Meanwhile  the  Los  Angeles  Times  had  leaped  with  gusto  into 
this  rising  climax  to  the  Boulder  Dam  fight.  Still  opposing  any 
government  power  development,  Harry  Chandler  threw  his 
weight  behind  a  simple  flood  control  dam  at  Needles.  In  an  effort 
to  stampede  this  proposal  through  Congress  he  rushed  corre- 
spondents to  Imperial  Valley  to  build  up  a  case  for  flood  menace. 

In  December  1926,  Chandler's  paper  began  to  blossom  with 
stories  on  the  Colorado's  threat  to  Imperial,  complete  with  photos 
of  former  flood  damage  and  inadequate  levees.  The  entire  valley 
was  pictured  as  living  in  fear  of  the  record  snow  pack  on  the  far- 
off  Rockies,  source  of  the  Colorado's  runoff.  This  would  not  bring 
floods  until  spring,  but  in  the  meantime  every  winter  freshet  of 
the  Gila  tributary  was  seized  upon  as  a  threatening  flood.  Phil 
Swing,  realizing  Chandler's  strategy,  wrote  Imperial  leaders  to 
pay  no  attention  to  the  clamor  for  flood  control.  Mark  Rose  ex- 
citedly called  it  "the  most  treasonable  conspiracy  of  a  genera- 
tion." Both  men  knew  Chandler  was  now  in  deadly  earnest,  and 
were  witnessing  the  full,  irresistible  force  of  a  Times  editorial 

Five  days  before  adjournment  on  March  4  the  Times  flood 
control  drive  reached  a  clattering  din.  But  Swing  and  Johnson 
were  able  to  hold  their  supporters  in  line;  they  had  not  worked 
five  years  for  the  Boulder  Dam  bill  to  have  it  shattered  by  an 
emergency  dam  at  Needles.  The  Times  retired  in  defeat,  charging 
that  the  fate  of  Imperial  Valley  now  rested  on  their  heads.  But  if 
the  flood  control  scheme  had  failed.  Swing's  own  bill  had  also 
died  in  the  Rules  Committee. 

Over  in  the  Senate,  Hiram  Johnson  was  making  better  head- 
way. The  Boulder  Dam  bill  reached  the  floor,  but  there  it  rested 
through  the  unyielding  opposition  of  Arizona.  There  was  no 
doubt  that  Johnson  had  enough  support  for  his  measure,  but  his 
problem  was  to  maneuver  it  to  a  vote.  Senators  Ashurst  and 
Cameron  of  Arizona  had  warned  that  as  soon  as  the  bill  came  up 
for  debate  they  would  talk  it  to  death. 


On  February  21  the  Senate  took  up  Boulder  Dam  in  earnest. 
After  Johnson's  opening  speech  Henry  Ashurst  jumped  up  and 
secured  the  floor.  Within  a  few  minutes  the  chamber  knew  that 
the  filibuster  was  on. 

Ashurst  first  talked  of  the  mighty  Colorado,  its  length  and  its 
tributaries;  then  he  launched  into  his  favorite  subject — Arizona. 
The  Petrified  Forest,  Grand  Canyon,  and  other  scenic  wonders 
droned  from  his  lips.  After  several  hours  he  was  relieved  by  Sena- 
tor Cameron,  who  still  held  the  floor  when  the  Senate  adjourned 
for  the  day. 

On  the  twenty-second,  with  Cameron  still  controlling  the  de- 
bate, Hiram  Johnson  launched  his  own  strategy.  As  floor  manager 
of  the  bill,  he  was  able  to  insist  that  the  Senate  remain  in  contin- 
uous session  through  the  night.  If  Arizona  wanted  a  showdown 
she  would  now  have  it. 

Cameron  was  still  talking  when  Ashurst  relieved  him  just  be- 
fore midnight.  Most  of  the  senators  had  gone  home  to  bed,  but  it 
was  up  to  Johnson  to  keep  a  quorum  on  hand.  When  some  of  the 
members  refused  to  answer  the  summons  the  sergeant  at  arms  was 
authorized  to  get  warrants  for  their  arrest.  By  2 140  A.M.  a  quorum 
of  sleepy-eyed  senators  filled  the  chamber.  At  this  hour  of  the 
morning  they  cared  little  for  Boulder  Dam,  even  less  for  Senator 

But  the  Arizonan  talked  on.  By  three  o'clock  he  began  over 
again  on  his  opening  speech,  reciting  the  Colorado's  tributaries, 
Arizona's  scenery,  the  Petrified  Forest,  the  Grand  Canyon.  His 
listeners  sank  deeper  in  their  chairs.  Near  five  some  of  his  weary 
colleagues  were  trying  to  help  him  get  a  recess.  But  Ashurst  re- 
fused, fearing  that  he  would  lose  the  floor  in  yielding  to  anyone 
for  such  a  purpose. 

"This  is  going  to  be  a  savage  fight,"  he  admonished  them 
hoarsely.  "Do  not  beguile  yourselves  with  the  belief  that  this  is 
going  to  be  a  soft-glove  affair.  This  is  a  fight  to  the  finish.  .  .  ." 

His  audience  had  faded  once  more,  but  by  the  full  light  of 
morning  the  sergeant  at  arms  had  secured  another  quorum. 
Shortly  afterward  Senator  Lawrence  Phipps  of  Colorado,  practi- 
cally an  open  representative  of  private  power,  came  to  the  Ari- 
zonan's  rescue  and  took  the  floor. 

Johnson's  famous  all-night  session  was  over.  Ashurst  had  met 


the  challenge  and  had  passed  the  torch  to  another.  But  now  the 
entire  nation,  made  aware  of  the  spectacle  by  newspaper  head- 
lines, was  aroused  to  the  drama  of  Hiram  Johnson's  battle.  While 
the  filibusterers  droned  on,  Americans  from  coast  to  coast  waited 
for  the  outcome. 

Hiram  Johnson  knew  he  dared  not  hold  the  Senate  in  another 
continuous  session.  One  more  sleepless  night  would  not  leave  his 
colleagues  favorably  disposed  toward  Boulder  Dam.  But  a  final 
weapon  remained.  Johnson  himself  had  opposed  cloture — the 
limiting  of  debate  by  a  two-thirds  vote — but  he  now  turned  to  it 
in  desperation. 

Next  day,  while  Henry  Ashurst  held  the  floor  and  read  the 
senators  an  unending  succession  of  documents,  the  Californian 
passed  from  desk  to  desk  with  his  cloture  petition.  Ashurst  saw 
what  he  was  doing  and,  with  reddening  face,  talked  on  more 
determinedly  than  ever.  At  last  Johnson  strode  resolutely  down 
the  aisle  to  the  rostrum  and  demanded  that  he  be  allowed  to 
introduce  his  petition. 

Vice- President  Charles  Dawes  was  out  of  the  chamber,  and  a 
senator  was  substituting  in  the  chair.  He  hesitated  while  Ashurst 
loudly  denied  Johnson's  right  to  present  the  cloture  motion.  Just 
as  loudly  Johnson  insisted  that  he  be  heard.  Amid  the  babel  he 
impatiently  tossed  the  petition  on  the  desk. 

Cameron  of  Arizona  then  leaped  up  and  doubled  Arizona's 
noise;  for  a  time  all  three  senators  were  shouting  at  once.  Vice- 
President  Dawes  hurried  into  the  room  and  irritatedly  took  the 
gavel  from  his  substitute,  who  retired  in  obvious  relief.  After  a 
vigorous  pounding  on  the  rostrum  Dawes  silenced  the  pande- 
monium. Quietly  he  ordered  that  Johnson  could  introduce  his 
resolution  limiting  debate. 

Ashurst  saw  his  defense  crumbling.  Angrily  he  appealed  the 
ruling,  but  was  voted  down.  Then  the  Arizonan  exploded.  In  a 
frenzied  voice  he  charged  that  Johnson  was  trying  to  smother 
Arizona,  and  called  him  a  "bifurcated,  peripatetic  volcano,  in 
perpetual  eruption,  belching  fire  and  smoke.  .  .  ."  With  out- 
stretched hands,  his  face  flushed,  his  words  quavering,  he  shouted 
that  Arizona  was  being  strangled. 

"Senators,  if  you  vote  for  this  cloture  motion  you  may  drown 
the  voice  of  Arizona,  but  there  will  ever  afterwards  be  in  your 


bosom  an  unstilled  voice  from  which  you  cannot  escape  .  .  . 
your  conscience." 

The  admonition  was  enough.  The  cloture  lost  its  necessary  two- 
thirds  majority.  Johnson  had  been  beaten  twice  in  his  attempts 
to  stop  the  filibuster  and  now  found  himself  out  of  weapons.  The 
Boulder  Dam  bill  died  when  the  Galifornian  agreed  to  take  up 
other  urgent  legislation  before  the  March  4  congressional  dead- 
line. Arizona  had  won  the  first  round  in  the  Senate  arena.  Boul- 
der Dam  was  now  dead  in  both  houses. 

There  was  nothing  to  do  now  but  wait  till  the  next  session  of 
Congress  in  December  1927.  But  Johnson's  spectacular  fight  in 
the  Senate  had  brought  the  issue  before  the  entire  country  and 
had  captured  the  imagination  of  a  public  which  appreciated  a 
good  scrap.  Through  the  summer  and  fall  the  California  water 
men  and  the  Hearst  newspapers  worked  to  keep  this  interest  alive. 
Led  by  Mayor  Sam  C.  Evans  of  Riverside,  the  Boulder  Dam 
Association  kept  up  its  publicity,  sending  speakers  and  pamphlets 
across  the  country.  When  Swing  and  Johnson  introduced  their 
new  bills  early  in  December,  they  had  a  nationwide  organization 
behind  them.  Letters  and  telegrams  were  soon  pouring  in  on 
Congress,  urging  early  debate.  The  House  Rules  Committee  sent 
the  bill  to  the  floor  on  May  15. 

It  was  now  thoroughly  amended  to  meet  the  arguments  of  its 
enemies.  Charges  that  the  government  was  entering  the  power 
business  were  answered  by  a  provision  that  it  would  build  the  dam 
but  not  the  generating  stations,  selling  nothing  more  than  falling 
water  to  local  Southwestern  power  users.  Even  Arizona  was 
placated  with  a  royalty  tax  on  every  kilowatt  of  power  generated 
at  the  dam — a  privilege  which  was  to  be  shared  by  Nevada. 

But  Swing  found  that  Arizona  still  opposed  the  dam  on  the 
water  issue.  She  was  joined  by  Utah,  whose  legislature  had  with- 
drawn its  approval  of  the  Compact.  Her  senior  Representative, 
Elmer  O.  Leatherwood,  stood  ready  to  continue  his  fight  against 
Swing's  bill.  Though  ill  from  overwork,  the  old  warrior  appeared 
on  the  chamber  floor  when  debate  opened  on  May  22  and 
harangued  his  colleagues  for  an  hour  in  bitter  opposition.  Not 
many  days  later  the  Utah  lawmaker  died  from  complications 
brought  on  by  fatigue.  It  was  said  that  he  was  a  victim  of  the 
Boulder  Dam  fight. 

The  day  after  Leather-wood's  speech  the  opposition  was  taken 
up  by  young  Lewis  Douglas  of  Arizona,  who  had  succeeded  Carl 
Hayden  as  his  state's  sole  Representative  when  the  latter  rose  to 
the  Senate.  At  thirty-three  Douglas  was  "the  baby  of  the  House" ; 
it  was  the  first  appearance  on  the  national  scene  of  the  man  who 
was  to  become  Director  of  the  Budget  and  later  Ambassador  to 

After  delivering  his  maiden  speech  against  the  Swing- Johnson 
bill,  Douglas  was  left  with  the  task  of  fighting  singlehandedly  a 
measure  which  the  entire  country  and  most  of  his  colleagues  were 
determined  to  pass.  Debate  was  limited  in  the  House,  and  a 
filibuster  was  impossible.  His  only  chance  was  to  smother  the  bill 
with  amendments.  But  when  Boulder  Dam  came  up  for  final 
vote  on  May  25,  1928,  Phil  Swing  met  Douglas  in  the  House 
corridor  and  warned  him  that  he  could  limit  debate  to  five 
minutes  on  each  amendment  if  he  chose. 

"I  don't  want  to  cut  you  off  on  any  serious  amendment,"  he 
explained.  "But  I  understand  you  have  about  a  hundred  of  them, 
and  I'll  not  allow  you  to  drag  this  bill  to  death." 

Douglas  knew  Swing  could  make  good  his  threat.  Arizona's 
only  chance  was  to  make  the  bill  as  acceptable  as  possible  with 
some  earnest  amendments.  Lewis  Douglas  promised  he  would 
introduce  no  more  than  twelve. 

Swing  now  went  into  the  chamber  with  a  majority  of  votes 
promised  and  House  passage  assured.  This  was  to  be  the  final 
fruit  of  eight  years  of  strategy.  The  help  he  had  invested  in  other 
sectional  bills  now  came  back  with  interest.  John  Garner  of 
Texas,  Democratic  floor  leader,  had  once  come  to  him  with  a 
bill  to  create  a  commission  for  dealing  with  Mexico  on  the 
division  of  the  Rio  Grande  and  Colorado  rivers.  Swing  had  con- 
sulted with  Hiram  Johnson,  and  the  two  had  earned  Garner's 
gratitude  by  helping  him  pass  the  measure. 

With  the  flood  problems  of  the  Mississippi  region  Phil  Swing 
had  been  particularly  sympathetic.  In  his  second  term  he  had 
gained  a  seat  on  the  House  Flood  Control  Committee,  and 
during  the  great  deluge  of  1927  had  boated  down  the  Mississippi 
with  the  committee  inspecting  the  fearful  damage.  When  the 
Mississippi  Flood  Control  bill  came  before  Congress  he  fought 
mightily  for  it,  securing  the  friendship  of  the  Southern  congress- 

men.  Once  his  Boulder  Dam  measure  came  to  a  vote,  they 
promised  him,  there  would  not  be  a  voice  against  it  from  the 
Mississippi  Valley.  It  is  said  that  one  reluctant  member,  who 
opposed  Swing's  bill,  was  ushered  into  the  corridor  by  his 
colleagues  just  before  the  roll  call  began.  Those  Southern  con- 
gressmen took  a  promise  seriously. 

All  this  accumulated  strength  was  at  Swing's  command  when 
Lewis  Douglas  unleashed  his  amendments  on  the  House  floor. 
As  fast  as  they  were  introduced  and  explained  by  the  lone 
Arizonan  the  House  voted  them  down. 

But  as  Douglas  dragged  the  session  into  the  afternoon  Swing 
feared  a  break  in  his  line  of  support.  The  New  York  City 
Democrats,  under  the  dominance  of  Tammany  Hall,  had 
promised  their  votes  for  that  great  national  enterprise,  Boulder 
Dam.  Still,  this  was  a  Friday  afternoon,  and  they  were  deter- 
mined to  head  home  for  the  week  end.  Swing  was  reminded  that 
they  would  have  to  catch  the  New  York  train  that  afternoon. 
As  time  wore  on  one  New  Yorker  after  another  slipped  over  to 
Swing's  desk  and  asked  when  the  measure  would  come  to  a  vote. 
At  last  Swing  went  to  the  chief  of  the  Tammany  delegation  and 
offered  to  limit  debate  if  it  was  necessary  to  insure  the  Tammany 

"Mr.  Swing,"  boomed  the  New  Yorker,  pounding  his  desk,  "I 
assure  you,  when  the  vote  comes,  they'll  be  here!" 

It  was  not  long  in  coming.  Douglas*  last  desperate  chance 
came  in  a  motion  to  send  the  bill  back  to  committee.  When  it 
lost  by  a  vote  of  219-139,  Douglas  knew  he  was  beaten.  By  three 
o'clock  Swing's  forces  had  regained  the  floor,  and  a  few  minutes 
later  the  roll  call  began.  Jack  Garner  and  his  Texas  colleagues 
contributed  their  votes.  The  entire  Mississippi  Valley  delegation 
went  for  the  measure  without  a  dissenting  voice.  Tammany  came 
through  with  its  votes  and  headed  for  the  railroad  station. 
Boulder  Dam  passed  the  House  by  a  safe  majority. 

When  the  news  of  Swing's  victory  reached  Imperial  Valley 
its  communities  virtually  erupted  with  joy.  The  streets  of  El 
Centre  were  jammed  with  hysterical  celebrants.  While  bells 
clanged  and  whistles  tooted,  a  hilarious  automobile  parade  was 
hastily  formed  with  mufflers  open  and  horns  blaring.  That  night 
a  more  organized  but  equally  uproarious  jubilee  was  held  in 


Brawley.  It  was  the  biggest  excitement  in  Imperial  since  the 

Hiram  Johnson,  however,  was  still  fighting  an  uphill  contest 
on  the  Senate  side  of  the  Capitol.  The  second  Arizona  filibuster 
began  in  earnest  on  May  26,  bringing  the  bitter  warning  from 
Johnson  that  he  would  force  "a  test  of  physical  endurance."  This 
time  Ashurst  had  a  young  and  virile  partner  in  obstruction.  Carl 
Hayden.  Together  they  kept  debate  dragging  on  Boulder  Dam, 
supported  at  intervals  by  Utah  Senators  Reed  Smoot  and  William 

At  the  same  time  Johnson  was  hampered  by  the  old-guard 
leadership  of  his  own  party.  Adjournment  of  the  session  was 
already  overdue,  and  on  May  27,  Charles  Curtis,  Republican 
majority  leader,  moved  for  adjournment — a  step  which  would 
mean  success  for  the  filibuster  and  defeat  for  Boulder  Dam. 
But  Johnson  was  able  to  muster  enough  votes  to  tie  up  the 
motion  40-40,  whereupon  Vice-President  Dawes  cast  the  decid- 
ing vote  against  it. 

Debate  was  on  once  more,  and  Johnson  increased  the  pressure 
by  invoking  his  "endurance"  test.  The  Senate  was  placed  in 
continuous  session  once  again — another  sleepless  night  for  the 
harassed  senators.  Through  the  early  morning  hours  of  the 
twenty-eighth  they  were  routed  out  of  bed  for  quorum  calls, 
while  Ashurst  went  through  his  old  speech  on  Arizona's  scenery, 
including  the  Petrified  Forest  and  "the  equally  petrified  speeches 
of  some  of  my  colleagues."  Arizona  was  still  battling  late  in  the 
morning  when  a  final  blow  felled  Johnson's  hopes  once  more. 
Senator  Curtis  had  been  picking  up  votes  during  the  nightlong 
session,  and  now  tossed  out  his  adjournment  motion  again.  By 
a  close  count  the  Senate  voted  to  end  its  business  with  that  day's 
session.  Johnson  knew  it  was  the  end;  Ashurst  and  Hayden  could 
easily  hold  out  through  the  afternoon  and  prevent  a  vote.  With 
supreme  resignation  he  capitulated  and  moved  to  consider  other 

"Yes,  I  am  whipped,"  he  told  his  colleagues,  "but,  by  heaven, 
another  day  is  coming  and  then  someone  else  will  be  whipped." 

He  referred  to  the  second  session  of  the  same  Congress,  due 
in  December  1928.  The  Boulder  Dam  bill  that  had  passed  the 
House  and  reached  the  Senate  floor  would  have  to  be  given  first 


consideration  then.  But  Ashurst  of  Arizona  warned  that  he  and 
Hayden  would  be  on  hand  to  fight  a  vote  "to  the  last  drop  of 
our  blood.  .  .  ." 

During  that  summer  the  California  men  made  political 
progress.  Senators  King  and  Smoot  of  Utah  had  supported  the 
Arizonans  in  their  fight,  but  Phil  Swing  now  moved  to  cut  off  that 
source  of  help.  When  the  Union  Pacific  Railroad  opened  its 
new  hotel  on  the  north  rim  of  the  Grand  Canyon  he  was  on  hand 
to  witness  the  celebration — merely  as  a  representative  Cali- 
fornian.  But  as  the  busses  left  the  railroad  at  Cedar  City  for  the 
drive  to  the  canyon  Swing  was  somehow  seated  in  the  first  car 
alongside  the  head  of  Utah's  Mormon  Church,  Heber  J.  Grant. 
While  the  coach  rolled  over  the  Utah  countryside  Swing  leaned 
over  and  opened  the  conversation.  Soon  he  was  well  into  his 
stock  Boulder  Dam  speech,  raving  on  about  "liquid  gold"  and 
"white  coal."  Heber  Grant,  tumbling  to  his  purpose,  interrupted. 

"Mr.  Swing,"  he  explained,  "I'm  only  the  spiritual  head  of 
the  Church.  President  Ivins  is  in  charge  of  business  affairs." 

Swing  was  not  dismayed.  "Where  is  he?" 

"In  the  bus  behind  us." 

"Stop  the  bus!"  cried  Swing.  "I'm  in  the  wrong  place." 

At  the  next  stopping  place  he  was  ushered  to  the  other  coach, 
where  he  was  introduced  to  Anthony  W.  Ivins,  a  leading  coun- 
selor in  the  Church  and  a  powerful  figure  in  Mormon  politics. 
By  the  time  the  caravan  was  rolling  again  Swing  was  launched 
once  more  on  his  Boulder  Dam  speech.  When  he  had  finished, 
Ivins  smiled  and  gave  his  answer. 

"Mr.  Swing,  you  know  Senator  Smoot  is  a  stubborn  man.  I 
can't  promise  you  his  vote,  but  I'll  promise  you  Senator  King's 
support.  And  I  will  try  to  get  Senator  Smoot  not  to  vote  against 

Swing  was  elated.  He  had  not  hoped  for  such  a  response.  For 
him  the  rest  of  the  Grand  Canyon  tour  was  superfluous;  he  had 
accomplished  his  mission  in  getting  the  Mormon  Church  behind 
Boulder  Dam. 

As  soon  as  the  Senate  took  up  the  Swing- Johnson  bill  in  Decem- 
ber 1928,  William  King  of  Utah  sought  out  Swing  and  proposed 
some  amendments.  The  Californian  knew  this  was  the  first  fruit 


of  his  Utah  excursion.  Together  King  and  the  California  group 
worked  out  six  amendments  satisfactory  to  both.  While  King 
introduced  them  on  the  Senate  floor  and  Johnson  "reluctantly" 
accepted  them,  Reed  Smoot  sat  glowering  at  his  desk.  Swing, 
watching  from  the  gallery,  marveled  at  his  own  handiwork. 

But  if  Utah  was  now  out  of  the  way,  Arizona  was  not.  Hayden 
and  Ashurst  opened  their  third  filibuster  on  December  5,  ap- 
parently determined  to  talk  through  the  entire  session  if  neces- 
sary. It  was  a  hopeless  stand;  even  their  former  allies  in  the 
upper-basin  states  were  now  clamoring  for  a  vote. 

For  a  week,  while  debate  raged  on  the  floor,  negotiations  were 
going  on  in  the  corridors  and  cloakrooms.  The  bitter  deadlock 
between  California  and  Arizona  over  water  rights  was  now  to  be 
broken  by  writing  into  the  bill  a  limitation  on  California's  share. 
The  amendment  gave  California  a  certain  part  of  the  7,500,000 
acre-feet  apportioned  to  the  lower  basin  by  the  Compact,  plus 
half  the  extra  1,000,000  acre-feet  of  III  b  water  and  half  of  any 
added  surplus. 

But  before  this  division  could  be  voted  on  an  unfortunate 
thing  happened.  On  December  10,  Senator  Phipps  of  Colorado 
introduced  a  substitute  amendment  which  made  no  specific 
mention  of  the  extra  1,000,000  acre-feet.  In  addition  to  her  share 
of  apportioned  water  California  was  simply  allowed  one  half 
the  surplus.  Here  is  the  crux  of  the  present  feud  between 
California  and  Arizona  over  III  b  water.  Arizonans  say  that 
everybody  knew  the  1,000,000  was  reserved  exclusively  for  their 
state.  Californians  are  equally  insistent  that  everybody  understood 
the  surplus  water  included  that  1,000,000.  They  argue  that  in 
six  days  of  exhaustive  debate  there  was  no  mention — by  Ashurst, 
Hayden,  or  anybody  else— of  Arizona's  having  sole  right  to 
III  b  water. 

At  any  rate  the  Phipps  amendment  was  adopted  over  Arizona's 
opposition  on  December  12,  giving  California  4,400,000  acre- 
feet  of  "apportioned"  water  and  one  half  the  surplus.  But  in  its 
failure  to  define  III  b  water  were  the  seeds  of  continued  conflict. 
For  if  California  limited  herself  to  4,400,000  acre-feet  of 
"apportioned"  water,  then  it  makes  a  lot  of  difference  whether 
III  b  is  "apportioned"  or  "surplus."  Arizona  says  it  is  part  of  the 
lower  basin's  "apportioned"  water,  to  which  California  has  a 


definite  limitation.  California  says  it  is  part  of  the  "surplus"  water, 
of  which  she  is  entitled  to  one  half. 

Nevertheless,  that  restricting  amendment  on  December  12, 
1928,  was  the  real  end  of  the  Boulder  Dam  battle.  On  the  same 
day  a  motion  was  made  to  limit  further  debate — thus  spiking 
Arizona's  last  chance  to  filibuster.  To  Hiram  Johnson's  surprise, 
Hayden  and  Ashurst  calmly  kept  their  seats.  They  had  been  fore- 
warned of  the  move  and  were  resigned  at  last  to  defeat. 

Boulder  Dam  came  to  a  vote  two  days  later.  From  his  gallery 
seat  Phil  Swing  watched  the  roll  call — a  monotonous  ending  to 
a  dramatic  nine-year  fight.  He  saw  Senator  King  of  Utah  vote 
for  the  bill,  as  Anthony  Ivins  had  predicted.  The  Mormon  leader 
had  not  promised  Senator  Smoot's  vote,  but  he  had  agreed  to 
ask  the  "stubborn  man"  not  to  vote  against  it.  Still,  if  Smoot 
backed  down  now  on  his  pet  annoyance  he  would  look  extremely 
foolish.  As  the  roll  call  neared  his  name  Smoot's  face  reddened. 
Just  before  his  name  was  called  he  sat  up,  complained  of  a  head- 
ache, and  hurried  out  of  the  chamber  without  voting.  Smoot's 
honor  had  been  saved  and  Utah's  promise  had  been  kept  to  the 
end.  Boulder  Dam  passed,  63-11. 

The  House  quickly  agreed  to  the  Senate  amendments,  and  on 
December  21,  Swing  and  Johnson  were  on  hand  to  watch  Calvin 
Coolidge  sign  their  bill  into  law.  Also  watching  was  W.  B. 
Mathews  of  Los  Angeles,  who  had  helped  to  bring  about  this 
historic  day.  From  Washington  to  California  some  hundred  other 
legislators,  lobbyists,  and  publicists  had  reason  to  rejoice.  The 
news  reached  the  Southwest  as  the  glorious  Christmas  present  of 
1928.  Imperial,  San  Diego,  Los  Angeles,  Yuma,  Las  Vegas,  and 
scores  of  other  communities  suddenly  exploded  with  delirious 

Within  a  few  weeks — on  March  4,  1929 — California's  legis- 
lature restricted  its  use  of  Colorado  water  in  a  Limitation  Act, 
so  as  to  comply  with  the  Boulder  Canyon  law.  Two  days  later 
the  Utah  legislature,  urged  by  pressure  from  Anthony  Ivins, 
renewed  its  ratification  of  the  six-state  Compact.  Now  every 
condition  had  been  met.  President  Herbert  Hoover,  who  had 
played  his  part  in  the  long  drama,  was  able  to  announce  on  June 
25  that  the  Boulder  Canyon  Project  Act  was  in  full  operation. 

It  was  the  end  of  the  first  great  battle  for  the  Southwest's  last 


water  hole.  The  conflicting  interests  had  been  satisfied,  or  nearly 
so.  "For  the  American  people  as  a  whole/'  concluded  the  New 
York  Times,  "it  removes  all  obligation  to  try  to  understand  what 
the  Boulder  Dam  business  is  all  about."  But  for  the  citizens  of 
the  Southwest  it  was  a  beginning.  There  remained  the  technical 
task  of  damming  the  Colorado  and  bringing  the  water  to  the 
people  and  the  land. 

12:     A  Day  for  the  Engineers 

The  United  States  opened  work  on  Boulder  Dam  with  an  en- 
thusiastic team  of  Californians  in  charge — Elwood  Mead  of  the 
Reclamation  Bureau,  formerly  professor  of  engineering  at  the 
University  of  California;  Secretary  of  the  Interior  Ray  Lyman 
Wilbur,  since  president  of  Stanford;  and  Herbert  Hoover  him- 
self. Together  they  took  a  proprietary  interest  in  launching  this 
project  which  would  remake  the  face  of  the  great  Southwest. 
As  soon  as  Congress  appropriated  the  first  $10,000,000  in  July 
1930,  Wilbur  sent  a  historic  message  to  Mead  which  set  the 
national  machinery  in  motion: 

"You  are  directed  to  commence  construction  on  Boulder  Dam 

Immediately  the  Reclamation  Bureau  hastened  to  draw  up  its 
specifications;  the  depression  of  the  thirties  had  struck  the  nation, 
and  the  giant  Southwestern  project  could  be  a  desperately  needed 
source  of  employment.  In  less  than  six  months  the  government 
had  surveyed  Black  Canyon — chosen  as  a  more  promising  site 
than  nearby  Boulder  Canyon — and  had  calculated  its  cost  data. 
Then  it  announced  a  call  for  contract  bids  on  the  greatest  con- 
struction job  ever  undertaken  by  man. 

No  one  engineering  firm  was  big  enough  to  tackle  it.  But  three 
combinations  of  them  submitted  bids  before  the  deadline  of 
March  4,  1 93 1 .  The  contract  went  to  an  organization  of  some  of 
the  most  experienced  builders  in  the  West — Six  Companies,  Inc., 
whose  low  bid  of  $48,890,995.50  turned  out  to  be  just  $24,000 
over  the  Reclamation  Service  estimates. 

Quickly  the  member  firms  completed  their  organization.  As 


chairman  of  the  board  they  chose  financier  Henry  J.  Kaiser  of 
Oakland,  whose  dynamic  energy  was  able  to  hold  the  group 
together  without  serious  dissension.  The  actual  task  of  field  con- 
struction fell  to  Frank  T.  Crowe,  a  lanky,  hardheaded  engineer 
in  his  early  fifties  who  had  built  and  helped  to  build  some  of  the 
biggest  dams  in  the  West.  Crowe  was  a  congenial  friend  but  a 
hard-driving  boss;  he  was  the  kind  of  field  engineer  who  liked  to 
boast,  "I  never  bellied  up  to  a  desk  in  my  life."  While  serving 
with  the  Reclamation  Bureau  in  1919  he  had  helped  to  make  the 
first  rough  surveys  between  the  Colorado's  towering  walls.  Now 
the  responsibility  of  fulfilling  them  was  his. 

Then  before  Frank  Crowe  could  begin  his  assault  on  the  Colo- 
rado the  state  of  Arizona  made  good  her  threat  to  fight  Boulder 
Dam  in  the  courts.  In  October  1 930,  Arizona  sought  an  injunction 
against  construction  from  the  Supreme  Court,  claiming  that  the 
Project  Act  was  unconstitutional.  Arizona's  lawyers  claimed  it 
not  only  took  away  her  control  of  dam  and  reservoir  sites  but 
enforced  the  Colorado  Compact  against  her  when  she  had  not 
approved  it.  California,  the  Interior  Department,  and  the  other 
basin  states  promptly  argued  that  the  suit  be  dismissed  for  failure 
to  show  any  real  damage  to  Arizona.  In  an  8-1  decision  the  Su- 
preme Court  threw  out  the  case  in  May  1931.  Arizona's  last  at- 
tempt to  block  Boulder  Dam  had  failed. 

It  was  mid-March  1931  when  Frank  Crowe,  armed  with 
charts  and  blueprints,  reached  the  site  of  construction  in  the 
desolate  heart  of  the  great  Southwestern  basin  and  looked  down 
upon  his  opponent.  Silently  the  brown  Colorado  wound  its 
tortuous  way  along  the  bottom  of  sheer  walls  1500  feet  deep. 
His  first  task  was  to  divert  it  through  giant  side  tunnels  around 
the  dam  site,  so  as  to  clear  the  ground  for  his  army  of  men  and 
machines.  Then  the  canyon  bottom  must  be  excavated  over  100 
feet  down  to  bedrock,  a  monolithic  block  of  concrete  raised  727 
feet  between  the  walls,  and  the  biggest  power  tunnels  and 
stations  in  the  world  constructed — all  within  seven  years'  time. 
According  to  contract,  Six  Companies  would  have  to  forfeit 
$3000  for  every  day  its  work  continued  beyond  the  deadline  of 
April  n,  1938.  The  government  was  making  every  effort  to 
see  that  the  long  years  of  delay  by  debate  were  not  matched  by 
delay  in  construction  while  the  Colorado  increased  its  threat  to 

Imperial  Valley.  It  now  remained  for  Frank  Crowe  to  discover 
how  the  sullen  river  would  react  to  this  invasion  by  man. 

The  Interior  Department  was  already  completing  the  first 
step  in  the  conquest.  From  a  point  near  Las  Vegas,  Nevada,  a 
thirty-one-mile  branch  of  the  Union  Pacific  Railroad  was  built 
into  the  depths  of  Black  Canyon  and  promptly  began  hauling 
material  and  equipment  across  the  desert  for  the  monumental 
work  ahead.  One  other  requisite  had  already  been  supplied  by 
Interior  Secretary  Wilbur,  who  a  few  months  before  had  sent 
official  notification  to  Mead  of  the  Reclamation  Bureau:  "The 
dam  which  is  to  be  built  in  the  Colorado  River  at  Black  Canyon 
is  to  be  called  Hoover  Dam." 

As  for  the  army  of  several  thousand  men  needed  to  fight  the 
river,  Frank  Crowe  found  it  at  hand  before  he  ever  saw  the 
Colorado.  All  the  way  from  Las  Vegas  to  the  dam  site  the  desert 
road  was  dotted  with  temporary  shanties.  Here  were  hundreds  of 
indigent  families,  caught  in  America's  worst  depression,  who  had 
come  from  every  corner  of  the  Union  in  the  desperate  hope  of 
finding  work  at  Boulder.  Upstream  from  Black  Canyon  there 
sprang  a  "Ragtown"  of  flimsy  shelters,  housing  some  thousand 
people  without  means  of  subsistence.  By  the  time  Crowe  arrived 
many  families  were  near  the  brink  of  starvation. 

The  situation  forced  Six  Companies  to  begin  large-scale 
operations  immediately.  After  a  hurried  conference  with  en- 
gineers Crowe  decided  to  hire  as  many  men  as  possible  by  work- 
ing three  shifts  a  day,  round  the  clock.  Skilled  crews  were  rushed 
from  other  Western  construction  jobs  to  hasten  the  assault  on 
Black  Canyon.  Roads  were  blasted  along  mountainsides,  tele- 
phone and  power  lines  installed,  work  houses  and  mess  halls 
erected.  In  the  barren  desert  a  few  miles  away  Six  Companies 
built  Boulder  City,  complete  with  schools,  hospitals,  lawn  sprin- 
klers, and  air  conditioning — everything  possible  to  make  life 
bearable  in  the  merciless  heat  of  Nevada  summers.  By  the  end  of 
the  year  Frank  Crowe  had  over  2700  men  on  the  pay  roll,  and 
the  ugly  crisis  was  over.  Six  Companies  had  met  its  first  emer- 
gency and  now  was  ready  to  tackle  the  river  itself. 

Into  the  shadows  of  Black  Canyon  in  early  May  went  Frank 
Crowe  with  his  men,  trucks,  and  drilling  machines.  On  Crowe's 
drawing  boards  were  two  giant  diversion  tunnels  for  each  side 


of  the  canyon — all  of  them  to  be  fifty  feet  in  diameter  after  the 
concrete  linings  were  laid.  Only  one  other  bore  in  the  world — the 
Rove  Tunnel  in  France — had  a  greater  diameter. 

First  blast  on  the  tunnels  was  fired  May  12,  1931.  From  that 
time  on  the  canyon  was  alive  with  metal-hatted  men  and  their 
jackhammers,  with  dust-raising  trucks  hustling  along  mountain 
roads,  with  loads  of  materials  swinging  out  between  the  giant 
walls  on  cables  suspended  across  the  chasm.  Out  of  the  sides  of 
Black  Canyon  came  incessant  rumblings  as  the  tunnel  faces 
gave  way  to  blasts  of  dynamite.  Then  the  "muck"  would  be 
scooped  up  by  monster  power  shovels  working  inside  the  tunnels, 
and  dumped  into  trucks  for  disposal. 

Crowe  and  his  engineers  knew  there  was  no  time  for  delay; 
they  planned  to  make  the  big  diversion  of  the  Colorado  in  the 
fall  of  1932 — at  a  time  when  the  river  would  be  in  low  stage, 
with  little  chance  of  flash  floods  from  the  Virgin  or  Little  Colo- 
rado tributaries.  If  the  tunnels  were  not  driven  and  lined  by  that 
time,  Six  Companies  would  have  to  wait  another  year;  there 
was  no  grappling  with  the  mighty  Colorado  except  in  its  most 
docile  moment. 

As  the  yawning  tunnels  were  driven  farther  into  the  sides  of 
Black  Canyon,  new  methods  and  machines  were  contrived  to 
hasten  the  work.  The  hugeness  of  the  bore  made  the  drilling  of 
the  "shot"  holes  the  most  tedious  part  of  the  job.  But  one  of 
Crowe's  engineers  devised  a  mammoth  framework  of  platforms 
mounted  on  a  truck,  from  which  up  to  thirty  drillers  could  attack 
the  face  simultaneously.  By  the  use  of  these  "jumbos,"  as  they 
were  soon  called,  Crowe's  tunnelers  drove  with  renewed  speed 
through  the  sides  of  Black  Canyon.  Before  the  first  tube  was  holed 
through  in  January  1932  some  of  the  crews  were  completing 
three  rounds  of  drilling,  firing,  and  mucking  every  twenty-four 
hours,  advancing  the  work  as  much  as  forty-five  feet  a  day.  Frank 
Crowe  calculated  that  they  would  all  be  finished  and  lined  with 
time  to  spare  before  the  deadline  at  the  end  of  the  year. 

But  the  Colorado  could  not  help  noticing  this  persistent 
human  activity  along  its  banks,  and  suspecting  the  plot  being  laid 
to  tame  it.  Early  in  February  1932  it  reared  in  anger.  Over  the 
mountain  country  to  the  north  a  heavy  rain  fell,  melting  winter 
snows  and  sending  a  gathering  flood  down  the  arms  of  the 


Virgin.  On  the  afternoon  of  February  9  it  hurtled  into  Black 
Canyon  without  warning. 

Instantly  Crowe's  hive  of  activity  was  turned  into  pan- 
demonium. Tunnel  work  was  dropped  and  crews  were  rushed  to 
the  surface  to  fight  the  river.  While  the  water  rose  foot  by  foot 
men  worked  feverishly,  raising  sandbag  embankments  to  protect 
the  tunnel  openings.  By  midnight  the  trestle  bridge  supplying  the 
works  on  the  Arizona  side  was  staggering  under  the  furious 
battering  of  torrent  and  debris.  Machine  shops  and  power  en- 
gines were  flooded,  but  Crowe's  battlers  kept  the  river  out  of  the 
tunnels.  When  the  Colorado  began  to  subside  next  morning  it 
had  taken  out  the  bridge  and  wrecked  some  equipment,  but 
left  Six  Companies  holding  the  field. 

Then  the  Colorado  tried  a  flank  attack.  The  same  storm  that 
had  flooded  the  Virgin  passed  over  Arizona  and  filled  the  Little 
Colorado  two  hundred  miles  to  the  east.  This  time  Crowe's  army 
received  the  alarm  hours  in  advance.  But  there  was  still  no  time 
to  rebuild  the  trestle  bridge  swept  out  by  the  first  flood,  and  the 
Arizona  tunnels  were  almost  isolated  from  help.  Men  were  sent 
hurrying  across  a  small  suspension  bridge  to  retrieve  vital  equip- 
ment and  fortify  the  dikes  in  front  of  the  tunnel  mouths. 

They  were  still  piling  sandbags  on  February  12  when  the 
Colorado's  second  flood  came  rampaging  into  Black  Canyon, 
50,000  second-feet  strong.  Like  an  enraged  lion,  it  swept  out 
the  Arizona  banks  and  poured  headlong  into  the  tunnels.  Before 
this  onslaught  Crowe's  men  were  powerless  to  do  anything  but 
protect  the  Nevada  tunnels. 

Next  day  the  Colorado's  fury  was  spent.  The  waters  receded 
and  the  river  passed  on,  but  in  the  bottoms  of  the  Arizona  tunnels 
the  crews  found  everything  a  dripping  confusion.  Intricate  elec- 
trical equipment  was  standing  in  brown  liquid  that  was  "too  thin 
to  shovel  and  too  thick  to  pump."  Wearily  they  turned  to  the 
task  of  cleaning  out  the  great  dungeons  and  restoring  the  ma- 
chinery. Meanwhile  other  crews  rebuilt  the  trestle  bridge,  and 
within  a  few  days  trucks  were  rumbling  over  it  once  more  with 
new  rock  blasted  from  the  diversion  tunnels. 

A  month  later  the  crews  began  lining  the  tunnels  with  con- 
crete. Filling  the  bottom  sections  was  easy  enough,  but  for  the 
sides  and  top  they  rolled  giant  steel  frameworks — like  modern 


Trojan  horses — into  the  depths  of  the  tunnels  for  use  as  concrete 
forms.  At  the  same  time  the  openings  were  fortified  against  the 
long  summer  flood  of  the  Colorado ;  if  its  water  swirled  in  on  this 
fresh  concrete,  weeks  of  tedious  work  might  be  undone  in  an 
instant.  Fortunately  1932  was  a  dry  year,  and  the  river's  flow 
never  reached  higher  than  100,000  second-feet. 

Late  in  August,  when  the  water  level  was  on  its  way  downward 
and  the  engineers  thought  the  worst  was  past,  the  Colorado 
made  its  last  desperate  stand.  On  the  thirty-first  it  unexpectedly 
raised  a  flash  flood  of  60,000  second-feet  and  caught  the  Black 
Canyon  crews  off  guard.  Before  they  could  stop  it  water  pene- 
trated the  barriers,  flooded  the  tunnel  pumps,  shorted  out  electric 
motors,  and  poured  over  considerable  fresh  concrete.  Then  the 
diabolical  river  subsided,  leaving  the  hard-bitten  Six  Companies 
workmen  a  week's  work  of  cleanup  and  more  recementing. 

By  October  the  lining  of  the  Arizona  tunnels  was  nearly 
finished,  and  Frank  Crowe  was  ready  to  turn  the  river.  Through 
hard  driving  and  the  use  of  labor-saving  machines,  his  men  had 
met  the  schedule  for  the  great  diversion  in  the  fall  of  1932.  All 
Frank  Crowe  had  to  do  was  to  lift  the  Colorado  River  ten  feet  in 
its  channel,  blow  out  the  barriers  in  front  of  the  tunnel  mouths, 
and  then  heave  the  river  into  them.  The  only  way  to  do  this  was 
to  use  the  trick  Harry  Cory  had  perfected  in  the  battle  for 
Imperial  Valley  twenty-six  years  before.  At  the  trestle  bridge 
just  downstream  from  the  openings  they  must  dump  rock  faster 
than  the  river  could  wash  it  away. 

On  the  evening  of  November  1 2,  Frank  Crowe  had  a  hundred 
loaded  dump  trucks  lined  up  along  the  canyon  road  with  engines 
idling.  In  the  canyon  bottom  the  Colorado  swirled  silently 
through  the  pilings  of  the  trestle  bridge,  apparently  unaware  that 
this  was  to  be  its  final  battle.  At  a  signal  the  trucks  swung  into 
gear  and  rumbled  toward  the  bridge.  One  after  another  they 
dumped  their  rock  into  the  water  and  roared  back  for  reloads. 
For  fifteen  hours  they  bombarded  the  river  at  the  rate  of  a  truck- 
load  every  fifteen  seconds.  All  night  long  the  Colorado  rose 
steadily,  pouring  through  the  bridge  pilings  and  over  the  top  of 
the  mounting  wall  of  rocks.  By  eleven- thirty  next  morning  it  had 
been  lifted  ten  feet  and  was  cascading  down  the  lower  side  of 
the  barrier.  At  the  right  moment  a  blast  of  dynamite  ripped  open 

the  levee  in  front  of  the  outside  Arizona  tunnel,  leaving  a  beckon- 
ing path  for  the  beleaguered  river.  From  the  mouth  of  the  bore 
came  a  jubilant  shout: 

"She's  taking  it,  boys,  she's  taking  it!" 

Into  the  smooth  round  maw  of  the  tunnel  flowed  the  docile 
Colorado.  A  few  hours  later  it  was  also  pouring  into  the  compan- 
ion tunnel  on  the  Arizona  side.  After  laboring  eighteen  months 
to  set  a  trap  for  the  wary  river,  Crowe  had  diverted  its  entire 
flow  out  of  the  canyon  in  a  single  day's  battle. 

A  third  of  a  mile  downstream  another  barrier  was  thrown 
across  the  canyon,  just  above  the  point  where  the  tunnels  emptied 
the  Colorado  back  into  its  channel.  The  corridor  between  was 
then  pumped  dry — and  the  great  working  space  for  the  con- 
struction of  Hoover  Dam  was  laid  bare  for  the  first  time  in  the 
river's  geologic  history. 

"Now  all  we  gotta  do,"  exclaimed  one  of  the  water  boys,  "is 
go  down  to  bedrock  and  back." 

Yet,  where  the  tempestuous  Colorado  was  concerned,  any- 
thing could  happen  as  long  as  these  slim  rock  barriers  were  all  that 
stood  between  it  and  the  power-shovel  crews  who  promptly  began 
digging  their  way  down  to  bedrock.  If  the  first  flash  floods  of  the 
winter  did  not  overturn  those  obstacles  the  Colorado's  spring 
rise  would  surely  do  so. 

Six  Companies  was  well  aware  that  dams  were  necessary  to 
build  dams.  Two  staunch  earth-fill  cofferdams,  with  great  sloping 
sides  like  pyramids,  were  built  to  wall  off  the  site  at  each  end. 
The  upstream  structure,  ninety  feet  high,  was  finished  in  March 
1933 — none  too  soon  to  ward  off  the  spring  rise  of  the  river.  By 
then  the  two  diversion  tubes  on  the  Nevada  side  had  been 
finished,  and  together  the  four  tunnels  were  able  to  carry  200,000 
second-feet — the  highest  recorded  floods  of  the  Colorado.  Down 
at  Needles,  however,  Santa  Fe  Railroad  engineers  had  found 
water  marks  on  the  canyon  walls  indicating  a  past  flood  of  some 
384,000  second-feet.  If  another  such  deluge  came  hurtling  down 
on  the  infant  works  in  Black  Canyon,  raw  nature  would  turn  one 
of  man's  greatest  engineering  efforts  into  catastrophe. 

Frank  Crowe  knew  there  was  no  room  for  delay  in  driving 
ahead  on  the  dam  itself.  Six  Companies  was  already  over  a  year 
ahead  of  the  Reclamation  Bureau's  timetable,  but  the  unpre- 


dictable  Colorado  knew  no  schedules.  Southward  in  the  delta 
country  it  was  still  building  up  its  bed  at  almost  a  foot  a  year, 
bringing  closer  the  day  when  it  would  spill  over  into  Imperial 
Valley.  Settlers  and  engineers  alike  knew  they  could  never  stop 
another  break  like  that  of  1906.  Their  hopes  rested  on  the  de- 
termined progress  of  Frank  Crowe's  legions  in  the  depths  of  Black 

Through  the  winter  and  spring  of  1933  his  shovel  and  dynamite 
crews  were  stripping  away  more  than  a  hundred  feet  of  silt  and 
debris  from  the  bed  of  the  channel.  Meanwhile  he  was  making 
preparations  for  the  biggest  concrete-pouring  job  the  world  had 
ever  seen — bigger  than  the  aggregate  of  dams  built  under  the 
Reclamation  Service  since  its  inception.  Two  giant  cement  plants 
were  assembled  in  the  canyon;  one  of  them,  perched  high  on  the 
Nevada  side  of  the  gorge,  was  the  largest  in  the  world.  From 
these  two  plants  railroad  cars  would  carry  mammoth  buckets, 
each  holding  sixteen  tons  of  concrete  mix,  down  to  the  dam  site. 
Huge  sky  hooks  from  overhead  cableways  would  then  snatch  them 
up  and  swing  them  out  over  the  canyon  to  be  poured. 

Greatest  single  problem  would  be  the  cooling  and  setting  of  the 
dam's  5,000,000  tons  of  concrete.  Enormous  temperatures  would 
be  created  deep  inside  it,  and  unless  special  devices  were  used  it 
would  take  some  hundred  and  twenty-five  years  to  cool.  In  the 
process  it  would  be  hopelessly  cracked  by  the  shifting  expansions 
and  contractions.  Therefore  the  dam  would  be  built  with  over 
two  hundred  individual  forms,  each  big  enough  for  an  ordinary 
house,  which  would  be  advanced  upward  as  the  dam  progressed. 
Supplementing  these  would  be  a  network  of  water  pipes,  and  a 
maze  of  shafts  and  corridors  through  which  every  corner  of  the 
structure  could  be  inspected  by  Six  Companies  engineers.  There 
was  to  be  no  room  for  chance  in  a  dam  backing  up  a  lake  a 
hundred  and  twenty-five  miles  long. 

By  June  1933  the  bedrock  floor  of  the  canyon  had  been  laid 
bare,  and  on  the  sixth  the  first  form  was  in  place.  Out  of  the 
sky  came  the  first  bucketful  of  concrete.  Over  two  years  had  been 
spent  in  preparing  Black  Canyon  for  this  epochal  event — begin- 
ning of  construction  on  the  dam  itself. 

Month  after  month  that  skyward  traffic  of  buckets  continued 
from  five  separate  cableways.  An  operator  situated  high  on  the 

cliff  above  would  lower  a  bucket  into  the  chasm  like  a  spider  on 
the  end  of  its  thread.  Directed  by  signals  from  below,  he  would 
place  it  over  the  designated  form  and  then  trip  the  cable  on  the 
bucket  gate.  Out  of  the  bottom  dropped  sixteen  tons  of  lavalike 
mix,  to  be  attacked  by  a  concreting  gang  and  tamped  with  shovels 
and  the  stomping  of  rubber  boots.  As  the  dam  reared  upward 
bucket  operator  and  form  crews  became  a  well-co-ordinated  team ; 
by  March  1934  ten  times  as  much  concrete  was  being  laid  as  in 
the  first  month  of  construction.  Buckets  were  soaring  through 
the  air  at  a  rate  of  nearly  one  a  minute,  hour  after  hour. 

With  this  kind  of  furious  activity  in  the  narrow  breadth  of 
Black  Canyon,  accidents  were  inevitable.  More  than  once  a  bucket 
cable  snapped,  sending  men  scurrying  out  of  the  way  as  wet 
concrete,  bucket  and  all,  hurtled  downward  and  crashed  into  the 
checkered  surface  of  the  dam.  One  evening  early  in  1 934  a  bucket 
of  mix  was  swinging  into  place  above  a  concreting  gang  when 
the  line  broke.  The  steel  behemoth  plummeted  across  the  form 
below,  taking  two  men  with  it.  Next  moment  it  was  clattering 
across  the  smooth  face  of  the  mammoth  dam.  Then  it  bounced 
off  the  cliff  and  flung  itself  and  its  cement  cargo  into  the  bottom 
of  the  canyon. 

In  a  minute  men  were  scurrying  over  the  great  structure,  look- 
ing for  the  victims.  One  was  found  dead  on  a  catwalk  below  the 
top.  Parties  were  searching  for  the  other  at  the  foot  of  the  dam 
when  a  light  was  noticed  halfway  up  its  bold  front.  The  second 
man  was  found  on  another  catwalk,  bruised  and  covered  with 
wet  concrete,  but  otherwise  very  much  alive.  He  had  struck  a 
match  to  find  out  where  he  was. 

Ordinarily,  however,  the  relentless  campaign  in  Black  Canyon 
went  on  with  smooth  precision.  By  March  23,  1935,  the  last 
bucketful  of  mix  had  been  poured  and  all  forms  were  standing  at 
crest  level,  727  feet  above  bedrock.  Then  pure  cement  mixture 
was  forced  into  the  remaining  spaces  between  the  forms,  and  in 
every  other  crevice  left  open  in  the  construction  work.  Frank 
Crowe  and  an  army  of  4000  metal-hatted  men  had  finished 
Hoover  Dam  four  years  almost  to  the  day  after  they  had  first 
descended  into  Black  Canyon. 

At  the  same  time  they  had  also  completed  the  final  conquest  of 
the  river.  The  two  inner  diversion  tunnels  had  already  been 


plugged  with  concrete,  and  a  set  of  gate  valves  placed  in  the 
outer  tunnel  on  the  Nevada  side  to  give  a  controlled  flow  for 
irrigation  downstream.  Then  on  February  I,  1935,  a  i5OO-ton 
steel  gate  was  lowered  over  the  mouth  of  the  outer  Arizona  tun- 
nel. The  waters  that  had  rushed  into  the  earth  a  moment  before 
now  lapped  peacefully  against  the  bulkhead.  There  was  nothing 
for  the  river  to  do  but  rise  against  Hoover  Dam. 

This  was  the  end  of  the  Colorado's  freedom;  in  low  water  or 
flood,  it  was  now  bridled  to  man's  purposes.  From  that  February 
I — two  years  ahead  of  schedule — Imperial  farmers  ceased  to  have 
the  river  on  their  backs.  No  more  would  it  threaten  their  valley 
with  inundation  at  every  summer  flood;  they  could  now  leave  their 
levees  without  strengthening  them  each  year  against  a  rising  river 
bed,  for  the  irrigating  water  that  now  passed  below  Boulder  Dam 
was  regulated  and  almost  clear  of  silt.  Until  now  total  disaster  had 
been  relentlessly  approaching ;  possibly  the  two  years  by  which  Six 
Companies  had  beaten  its  schedule  had  been  the  crucial  two  for 
Imperial  Valley. 

On  September  30,  1935,  Black  Canyon  played  host  to  some 
12,000  spectators  when  President  Franklin  D.  Roosevelt,  flanked 
by  cabinet  members  and  governors  of  six  states,  officially  dedi- 
cated the  dam.  Most  of  the  stalwarts  who  had  fought  for  years  to 
get  it  authorized  were  there — all  except  Arthur  Powell  Davis, 
former  chief  of  the  Reclamation  Bureau,  who  had  first  proposed 
the  project  in  1903  and  had  pressed  its  adoption  for  twenty-five 
years.  He  had  died  in  August  1933,  two  years  before  this  cli- 
matic event  which  his  efforts  had  largely  produced. 

Even  at  the  time  of  its  dedication  the  dam  had  formed  a  reser- 
voir of  nearly  4,000,000  acre-feet,  enough  to  make  it  one  of  the 
largest  artificial  lakes  in  the  world.  But  this  was  merely  a  begin- 
ning. Eventually  it  would  reach  the  size  of  30,000,000  acre-feet 
— not  only  the  biggest  man-made  body  in  existence  but  one  large 
enough  to  make  permanent  changes  in  the  climate  of  its  im- 
mediate region  in  the  Southwest  and  to  cause  local  earthquakes 
by  its  weight.  Early  in  1936  it  was  named  Mead  Lake,  after  the 
Reclamation  commissioner  who  had  overseen  its  creation  through 
Hoover  Dam. 

To  the  cities  of  the  Southern  California  coast  the  Boulder 
Canyon  Project  now  yielded  a  seemingly  unending  supply  of 


hydroelectric  power.  From  the  huge  generating  plants  at  the 
foot  of  Hoover  Dam  a  brigade  of  giant  steel  towers  stalks  three 
hundred  miles  over  desert  and  mountains  to  bring  the  electric 
energy  that  has  given  Los  Angeles  and  its  neighbors  their  recent 
industrial  growth. 

One  other  benefit  the  Southern  California  cities  were  to 
receive  from  the  Colorado — 1,000,000  acre-feet  of  municipal 
water.  Toward  this  goal  they  were  already  driving  in  a  gigantic 
project  of  their  own.  Los  Angeles  and  eleven  other  cities,  grouped 
together  since  1928  in  a  Metropolitan  Water  District,  were  build- 
ing a  24O-mile  ditch  across  the  California  desert. 

Surveys  of  the  route  had  been  finished  before  Hoover  Dam 
was  started,  but  one  obstacle  after  another  had  delayed  construc- 
tion. Of  first  consideration  was  the  tangled  question  of  water 
rights.  A  definite  amount  had  been  allotted  to  the  lower  basin  in 
a  compact  to  which  Arizona  had  not  agreed,  and  this  contra- 
dictory situation  made  a  definition  of  rights  necessary  before  the 
cities  could  even  begin  to  finance  their  project.  Government  con- 
tracts for  delivery  of  water  provided  the  answer,  but  this  in  turn 
necessitated  an  agreement  among  all  water  interests  on  a  division 
of  California's  share. 

Negotiators  from  Imperial  and  other  agricultural  districts  there- 
upon sat  down  with  others  representing  municipal  users,  and 
after  months  of  wrangling  turned  out  the  Seven  Party  Agreement 
of  August  1 8,  1931.  It  allowed  priorities  of  use  for  existing  water 
rights  totaling  5,362,000  acre-feet  a  year — just  under  the  U.  S. 
Interior  Department's  figure  on  the  amount  to  which  California 
had  restricted  herself  in  her  Limitation  Act.  On  this  basis  govern- 
ment water  contracts  were  immediately  executed.  Arizona  has 
since  disputed  their  validity,  but  California  points  out  that  they 
grew  out  of  a  proposal  being  pressed  in  negotiations  at  that  time 
by  Arizona  herself. 

At  any  rate  the  contracts  were  made,  and  on  the  strength  of  them 
the  Metropolitan  Water  District  launched  into  a  $220,000,000 
investment  to  bring  Colorado  River  water  to  city  faucets.  The 
bond  election  to  raise  this  sum  was  set  for  September  29,  and  the 
Southland  swung  into  one  of  its  rousing  water  campaigns.  Nearly 
every  newspaper  fought  for  the  bonds,  while  city  water  depart- 
ments published  pamphlets  and  mailed  them  to  customers  with 


their  bills.  Prominent  leaders  formed  themselves  into  a  Citizens 
Colorado  River  Committee  which  took  active  charge  of  the 
campaign.  By  early  September  it  was  turning  out  its  own  news- 
paper, Water  News;  at  the  same  time  service  clubs  were  provided 
with  speakers,  radio  listeners  were  besieged  with  water  programs, 
audiences  were  shown  sound  movies  entitled  Thirst,  and  even 
auto  windshields  blossomed  with  aqueduct  stickers.  On  the  morn- 
ing before  election  housewives  all  over  the  metropolitan  area 
found  their  milk  bottles  decorated  with  a  printed  reminder: 
"One  more  day  until  September  29,  1931."  Southern  Cali- 
fornians,  already  made  water-conscious  by  their  environment, 
were  convinced.  They  went  to  the  polls  on  the  twenty-ninth  and 
voted  in  the  $220,000,000  bond  issue  by  a  ratio  of  five  to  one. 

Legal  obstacles  and  the  depressed  financial  conditions  blocked 
sale  of  the  bonds  for  over  a  year  and  a  half.  But  late  in  January 
1933  the  eager  Metropolitan  District  engineers  were  able  to  break 
ground.  A  reservoir  site  had  already  been  chosen  just  above 
Parker,  Arizona,  a  hundred  and  fifty-five  miles  south  of  Hoover 
Dam.  From  here  the  conduit  would  strike  westward  across  some 
of  the  wildest  country  in  the  arid  Southwest.  All  of  the  experience 
of  the  Los  Angeles  Water  Department  in  building  the  Owens 
Valley  aqueduct  would  now  come  into  play.  But  whereas  Mul- 
holland's  army  had  gone  into  the  desert  without  modern  re- 
frigeration or  gasoline  trucks,  this  second  generation  of  aqueduct 
makers  would  be  armed  with  the  latest  advances  in  engineering. 

While  the  Colorado  builders  were  no  pioneers,  they  were  to 
fight  under  their  own  disadvantages.  No  railroad  traversed  the 
greater  part  of  their  route;  they  would  have  to  start  from  the 
empty  desert  in  building  supply  roads,  telephone  and  power  lines, 
and  in  developing  a  water  supply  for  the  work  itself.  And  this  was 
no  gravity  conduit,  sloping  by  careful  gradients  from  source  to 
city.  Aqueduct  water  would  have  to  be  pumped  out  of  the  Colo- 
rado canyon,  then  over  intervening  mountain  ranges  to  the 
coastal  plain — a  total  rise  of  some  1600  feet.  Here  were  problems 
unknown  on  Mulholland's  Owens  River  ditch.  While  the  two 
aqueducts  were  almost  exactly  the  same  in  distance — over  two 
hundred  and  forty  miles  from  river  to  distributing  reservoir — the 
Colorado  conduit  would  cost  nearly  ten  times  more  than  its  noted 


Mulholland's  modern  counterpart  was  staunch,  white-haired 
Frank  Weymouth,  former  chief  engineer  of  the  Reclamation 
Bureau,  whose  expert  testimony  had  helped  steer  the  Boulder 
Canyon  Act  through  congressional  committees.  Among  his 
triumphs  in  twenty-two  years  of  government  service  was  the  giant 
Arrowrock  Dam  of  southern  Idaho,  highest  in  the  world  until 
Hoover  Dam  was  built.  Since  1929,  Weymouth  had  been  chief 
engineer  for  the  Metropolitan  Water  District;  at  the  age  of 
fifty-eight  he  was  now  embarking  on  the  crowning  achievement  of 
his  career — the  biggest  municipal  aqueduct  on  the  face  of  the 

Geography  necessarily  divided  the  task  before  him  into  two 
distinct  sections.  The  first  extended  from  the  Colorado  a  hundred 
and  twenty-five  miles  uphill  to  Hayfield  Reservoir,  the  halfway 
point  east  of  Coachella  Valley.  Through  this  rugged  desert 
country  the  aqueduct  wound  its  way  in  alternating  tunnels, 
siphons,  and  open  canals,  and  it  was  here  that  all  the  pumping 
stations  were  located.  But  from  Hayfield  pump  lift  westward  the 
water  would  run  downhill  at  a  slope  of  three  and  a  half  feet  to 
the  mile,  through  an  entirely  closed  conduit  of  tunnels,  siphons, 
and  concrete  pipe.  Its  11 7-mile  course  paralleled  Coachella 
Valley,  headed  into  San  Gorgonio  Pass,  swung  below  Banning 
through  the  San  Jacinto  Tunnel,  and  ended  finally  at  Lake 
Mathews,  south  of  Riverside.  From  here  a  distributing  system 
would  carry  water  to  the  cities  of  the  Metropolitan  District  as  far 
as  Santa  Monica  on  the  coast,  nearly  four  hundred  miles  from 
the  Colorado. 

Early  in  1933  a  ceremony  for  the  opening  of  construction  was 
held  at  Banning,  and  standing  at  Weymouth's  side  was  another 
veteran  engineer  who  watched  the  proceedings  with  satisfaction. 
At  length  old  Bill  Mulholland  was  called  upon  to  speak.  The 
seventy-seven-year-old  patriarch  shuffled  forward,  hands  in 
pockets,  and  immediately  gave  the  occasion  an  informal  spirit. 

"Well,"  he  began,  "anything  I  might  say  would  be  pretty  old 
stuff.  I've  tramped  these  hills  since  '77  ...  and  I'm  getting 
along.  I  am  glad  to  be  of  service  to  you  and  to  this  community — 
now — and  forever!" 

It  was  to  be  his  last  public  statement.  Two  years  later,  while 
aqueduct  work  was  in  full  progress,  Mulholland's  robust  health 


faltered.  During  his  illness  the  old  man  fought  valiantly  for  life, 
telling  those  at  his  bedside,  "The  Irish  never  give  up."  But  on 
July  22,  1935,  Bill  Mulholland  succumbed — and  all  of  Los 
Angeles  joined  in  mourning.  The  city's  flags  were  flown  at  half- 
mast,  while  every  newspaper  carried  stirring  eulogies  on  the 
engineer  whose  water  adventures  had  laid  a  foundation  for  Los 
Angeles.  During  his  funeral,  which  was  attended  by  thousands, 
Frank  Weymouth  ordered  work  stopped  all  along  the  Colorado 
aqueduct  for  one  minute  of  silence.  Southern  California  was 
paying  final  tribute  to  the  man  who  had  fulfilled  his  own 
prophecy:  "Whoever  brings  the  water  will  bring  the  people." 

By  January  25,  1933,  Frank  Weymouth's  crews  had  broken  ground 
on  the  first  of  the  aqueduct's  forty-two  tunnels,  which  made  up  a 
third  of  the  entire  route.  On  their  construction,  and  especially  on 
the  thirteen-mile  bore  under  Mount  San  Jacinto  in  the  Coast 
Range,  depended  the  estimated  building  time  of  six  years  for  the 
whole  aqueduct.  Over  half  of  them  were  driven  by  contracting 
firms,  while  district  forces  attacked  the  forty  miles  of  almost  con- 
tinuous tunnels  where  the  conduit  paralleled  Coachella  Valley 
along  the  slope  of  the  San  Bernardino  Mountains. 

Experience  gained  in  the  construction  of  the  Hoover  Dam 
diversion  tunnels  was  now  available  to  push  this  monumental 
work.  Soon  discarded  was  the  old  "heading-and-bench"  method, 
whereby  the  upper  part  of  a  tunnel  was  excavated  a  few  hundred 
feet  ahead  of  the  lower,  and  the  new  "full  face"  system  was 
substituted.  Jumbo  carriages  mounting  up  to  eleven  power  drills 
assaulted  the  heading  from  ceiling  to  floor,  while  hard-hatted 
crewmen  drove  the  powder  holes.  Then  they  were  backed  out  of 
range  while  the  dynamite  was  tamped  and  blasted.  Powerful 
blowers  at  the  tunnel  mouths  promptly  sucked  out  the  noxious 
gases  of  the  explosion,  turned  in  fresh  air,  and  allowed  the  muck- 
ing crews  to  take  over  with  their  excavating  machines  and  clear 
the  loosened  rock  for  the  next  advance.  By  this  quick-moving 
system  the  tunnel  crews  drove  forward  over  seven  feet  with 
every  "round,"  on  an  average  of  twenty-one  feet  a  day. 

By  the  fall  of  1934  more  contracting  firms  were  invading  the 
desolate  country  east  of  Hayfield  Reservoir  to  carve  sixty-three 
miles  of  open  canal  across  the  desert  sands.  It  was  a  job  for  giant 


mechanical  machines.  Along  each  canal  section  came  chugging 
bulldozers  to  break  ground  and  prepare  the  way.  Then  huge 
dragline  cranes  attacked  the  route  and  did  the  main  work  of 
excavation.  To  complete  the  shape  of  the  fifty-five-foot-wide 
ditch,  one  construction  company  invented  the  "canal  trimmer" — 
a  mammoth  framework  of  moving  machinery  shaped  to  fit  the 
outline  of  the  canal  and  cut  it  to  precise  shape.  Drawn  along 
tracks  on  each  bank,  it  crept  forward  at  the  rate  of  a  foot  a 
minute — like  some  prehistoric  behemoth  crawling  over  the  face 
of  the  Colorado  Desert.  Behind  it,  after  reinforcing  rods  were 
fastened  in  place,  came  another  monster — obviously  a  relative  of 
the  first.  It  was  a  "canal  paver,"  which  spread  the  concrete  lining 
and  tamped  it  into  place  in  a  single  operation.  Nowhere  had 
such  weird  machines  been  used  before,  and  nowhere,  because  of 
their  size,  could  they  be  used  again. 

Within  a  year,  as  new  sections  were  opened,  men  and  machines 
swarmed  over  a  hundred  miles  of  desert  west  of  the  Colorado. 
A  dozen  temporary  towns,  complete  with  air-conditioned  bar- 
racks and  ice  plants,  had  been  built  along  the  route  to  shelter 
an  army  which  had  grown  to  nearly  11,000  by  the  peak  year  of 
1936.  In  the  midst  of  depression  they  were  braving  merciless 
summer  heat  in  the  most  forbidding  part  of  the  Southwestern 
desert  to  hold  jobs  on  the  aqueduct.  By  early  1936,  under  the 
energetic  direction  of  Frank  Weymouth,  the  builders  were  half- 
way through  their  job  of  delivering  Colorado  water  to  the  thirsty 
cities  of  Southern  California. 

But  over  on  the  river  itself  trouble  had  suddenly  arisen  at  the 
canal's  starting  point  a  few  miles  north  of  Parker.  Reclamation 
Bureau  men  had  arrived  at  the  dam  site  early  in  1934  to  begin 
diamond  drilling  and  determine  the  depth  of  bedrock.  There- 
upon the  state  of  Arizona  rallied  her  forces  for  another  round. 
As  long  as  her  own  water  rights  in  the  Colorado  were  still  unde- 
termined she  would  not  stand  by  while  California  began  build- 
ing a  dam  to  divert  her  water— especially  as  that  dam  would  be 
partially  founded  on  Arizona  soil. 

Implacable  old  George  W.  P.  Hunt  was  no  longer  Arizona's 
governor,  but  in  his  place  now  sat  a  man  of  equal  showmanship 
and  nerve — Governor  B.  B.  Moeur.  He  lost  no  time  in  notifying 


the  California  governor  that  Arizona  would  oppose  any  activity 
on  her  own  side  of  the  river. 

California,  the  Metropolitan  Water  District,  and  the  Reclama- 
tion Bureau  ignored  the  warning.  Late  in  February  1934  their 
forces  at  the  Parker  site  began  drilling  operations  from  barges  in 
midstream.  In  order  to  hold  them  in  place  they  swung  a  heavy 
cable  across  the  Colorado  and  anchored  it  on  the  Arizona  side. 

When  Governor  Moeur  heard  about  the  cables  he  moved 
swiftly  in  the  best  Arizona  tradition.  On  March  3,  1934,  a  squad 
of  militia  was  ordered  to  the  dam  site  with  instructions  to  "pro- 
tect the  rights  of  the  State  and  report  at  once  any  encroachment 
on  the  Arizona  side  of  the  river." 

Immediately  the  Southwest  prepared  for  some  frontier  excite- 
ment. Phoenix  was  in  a  flurry  as  its  troops  gathered  equipment, 
checked  their  ammunition,  and  prepared  to  strike  out  for  "the 
front."  The  Los  Angeles  Times  rushed  a  "war  correspondent"  to 
Parker,  where  he  joined  the  natives  in  waiting  for  the  arrival  of 
the  Arizona  guard;  he  passed  the  time  by  writing  with  tongue  in 
cheek  of  the  "impending  movement  of  State  troops  into  this 
theater  of  war  to  protect  the  State  of  Arizona  from  invasion  by 
all  or  part  of  the  State  of  California.  .  .  ." 

It  was  agreed  by  the  old-timers  that  Governor  Moeur  would 
have  to  send  a  squad  of  mountain  goats  if  there  was  to  be  any 
approach  to  the  dam  by  land.  Only  a  dim  and  ancient  wagon 
road,  crossing  sharp  ravines  and  fording  the  Bill  Williams  River 
a  dozen  times,  approached  the  spot  on  the  Arizona  side  of  the 
Colorado.  An  oiled  supply  road  served  it  in  California,  but  this 
was  ruled  out  as  enemy  territory.  Meanwhile  the  federal  work- 
men continued  to  drill  in  the  bed  of  the  Colorado  as  though 
nothing  was  amiss.  The  Metropolitan  Water  District's  engineer 
in  charge  was  simply  instructed  to  "inform  anyone  who  might 
want  to  remove  the  cables  that  we  are  not  through  with  them." 

On  the  afternoon  of  March  5  the  spearhead  of  the  Arizona 
forces  descended  on  Parker  in  a  whirl  of  dust  after  the  long  trip 
from  Phoenix.  While  the  town  population  gathered,  two  men 
emerged  from  the  dust-caked  station  wagon.  One  was  the  gover- 
nor's secretary;  the  other  was  Major  F.  I.  Pomeroy  of  the  I58th 
Infantry  Regiment,  Arizona  National  Guard.  Together  they 
made  cautious  inquiries,  reconnoitered  the  terrain,  and  decided 


that  the  old-timers  were  right.  The  only  way  to  reach  the  scene 
of  operations  several  miles  up  the  river  was  by  water. 

At  this  point  appeared  Nellie  and  Joe  Bush,  leading  citizens 
of  Parker.  Mrs.  Bush  was,  in  fact,  a  member  of  the  Arizona  legis- 
lature, and  was  proud  to  be  of  service  in  this  crucial  hour.  From 
Parker  to  the  town  of  Earp,  on  the  California  side,  they  had  long 
operated  a  pair  of  ferryboats,  the  Julia  B.  and  the  Nellie  T.  These 
they  placed  at  the  instant  disposal  of  the  state  of  Arizona. 

Early  next  morning  the  long-heralded  military  advance  began. 
The  Julia  B.,  flying  the  Arizona  flag,  left  the  Parker  dock  and 
chugged  northward  through  the  brown  current.  Some  distance 
upstream  Nellie  and  Joe  picked  up  the  two-man  Arizona  military 
force  and  pressed  onward.  The  Times  reporter,  also  on  board, 
was  quick  to  label  the  whole  expedition  with  the  magnificent  title 
of  "Arizona  Navy."  The  appellation  was  a  happy  stroke  of  genius ; 
its  incongruity  immediately  captured  the  nation's  sense  of  humor. 
Across  the  country  uproarious  headlines  described  the  antics  of 
the  Arizona  Navy.  A  group  of  enthusiastic  Arizonans  wired  their 
representative  in  Congress,  urging  that  the  battleship  Arizona  be 
sent  at  once  to  the  scene  of  action  at  Parker. 

Up  the  river  stalked  the  staunch  little  craft,  doing  its  best  to 
fulfill  the  title.  Drawing  eighteen  inches  of  water,  it  sported  an 
engine  room  and  pilothouse  aft,  with  a  flat  forward  deck  big 
enough  for  a  single  auto.  Manning  the  wheel  on  the  voyage  was 
officer  Nellie;  Joe  Bush  acted  as  admiral.  Through  the  willow- 
lined  canyon  walls  it  plowed,  while  isolated  settlers  stood  on  the 
banks  gazing  in  wonderment  at  this  strange  invasion. 

Early  in  the  afternoon  the  brave  craft  reached  the  dam  site. 
Water  District  men  watched  from  their  barges  and,  according  to 
an  eyewitness,  were  "somewhat  embarrassed  as  to  proper  naval 
procedure."  Knowing  that  some  kind  of  a  salute  was  required 
"when  a  foreign  vessel  comes  into  port  carrying  dignitaries,"  they 
are  said  to  have  produced  a  shotgun  and  sounded  off  properly. 
When  the  Julia  B.  finally  reached  the  bank  on  the  Arizona  side 
the  Calif ornians  waved  their  hats  and  sent  up  a  resounding  chorus 
of  halloos. 

Unruffled,  Major  Pomeroy  busied  himself  inspecting  the  cables 
anchored  on  the  Arizona  shore.  He  then  decided  to  inspect  the 
mouth  of  the  Bill  Williams  River  as  a  possible  camp  site  for  his 


troops,  but  when  the  Julia  B.  turned  to  continue  upstream,  the 
low-hanging  cables  barred  the  way.  Here,  indeed,  was  a  crisis. 
But  seeing  the  distress  of  the  Arizonans,  the  California  engineer 
obligingly  sent  a  small  motorboat  across  the  river.  This  time  the 
embarrassment  was  Arizona's.  While  the  Julia  B.  sulked  dis- 
appointedly at  her  mooring,  the  California  vessel  carried  the 
major  upstream  to  complete  his  mission.  It  was  a  crowning  stroke 
in  the  Arizona-California  hostilities. 

That  evening  the  proud  Julia  B.  churned  homeward,  having 
fulfilled  her  destiny  as  flagship  of  the  Arizona  Navy.  Next  day 
she  was  back  at  the  odious  task  of  hauling  autos  back  and  forth 
from  Parker  to  Earp,  on  the  California  shore. 

Major  Pomeroy  returned  to  Phoenix  and  three  days  later  burst 
into  the  town  of  Parker  again  with  his  expeditionary  force — three 
vehicles  and  five  soldiers.  Shunning  the  ignominy  of  naval  trans- 
portation, they  struck  determinedly  across  the  Arizona  desert  next 
morning  in  a  station  wagon.  By  noon,  after  a  backbreaking  ride 
across  the  fordings  of  the  Bill  Williams,  they  reached  the  Colo- 
rado a  half  mile  above  the  dam  site.  There  the  troops  encamped 
to  observe  the  movements  of  the  enemy  and  "report  any  encroach- 
ment." Through  the  scorching  heat  of  an  Arizona  summer  they 
remained  at  their  isolated  outpost — the  vanguard  of  resistance 
for  the  sovereign  state  of  Arizona. 

After  nine  months'  time  they  suddenly  sent  an  emergency  re- 
port to  Governor  Moeur.  Construction  had  begun  on  Parker  Dam. 
Six  Companies,  the  firm  that  had  built  Hoover  Dam,  had  taken 
the  contract  and  was  now  laying  a  trestle  bridge  across  the  river 
toward  the  Arizona  shore.  Survey  parties  had  already  set  foot  on 
Arizona  soil. 

Governor  Moeur  acted  immediately.  On  November  10,  1934, 
he  declared  martial  law  over  the  territory  embracing  the  Arizona 
side  of  the  Parker  site.  The  National  Guard  was  ordered  to  take 
possession  of  the  area,  eject  trespassers,  prevent  construction  of 
the  bridge,  and  "repel  the  threatened  invasion  of  the  sovereignty 
and  territory  of  the  State  of  Arizona.  .  .  ."  To  Secretary  of  the 
Interior  Harold  Ickes  he  sent  a  message  explaining  his  stand.  To 
the  press  he  summed  up  Arizona's  determination  with  a  fiery 
comment : 


"We  may  get  licked  in  the  affair,  but  we  will  go  down  fight- 

Over  on  the  Colorado  the  Metropolitan  Water  District  was 
equally  adamant.  Six  Companies  kept  operating  its  pile  driver 
as  usual,  pounding  closer  to  the  Arizona  side.  The  workmen  them- 
selves were  resolved  to  push  ahead,  even  if  it  meant  a  clash.  They 
had  sought  this  work  too  long  in  the  midst  of  a  national  depres- 
sion to  give  it  up  now  without  a  struggle.  The  Reclamation 
Bureau  engineer  backed  up  their  defiance. 

"My  survey  parties,"  he  announced  solemnly,  "will  cross  the 
river  tomorrow  and  go  on  with  work  as  usual." 

Downstream  at  Parker  the  citizens  came  alive  in  anticipation 
of  hostilities.  Miners,  cowboys,  and  even  Indians  came  to  town 
from  the  surrounding  country  to  witness  the  "big  showdown." 
Newspaper  correspondents,  photographers,  and  newsreel  camera- 
men swarmed  into  Parker,  ready  to  record  another  sortie  of  the 
Arizona  Navy  for  an  expectant  nation.  Joe  Bush  ordered  the 
Julia  B.  recommissioned  for  another  advance  up  the  Colorado. 

"We're  ready  to  move  troops  up  the  river  any  day,"  he  an- 
nounced dramatically.  Scouts  sent  upstream,  however,  returned 
to  report  that  the  water  level  during  the  Colorado's  fall  stage  was 
too  low  to  float  the  Arizona  Navy.  Joe  Bush  was  undismayed. 
"She'll  go  anywhere,"  he  proudly  insisted. 

"When  are  you  going  to  shove  off?"  somebody  asked  him. 

"Oh,"  he  countered  slyly,  "you  don't  think  we're  giving  out 
military  information,  do  you?" 

On  November  12  the  Six  Companies  pile  driver  at  the  dam 
site  had  almost  reached  the  Arizona  bank;  plans  were  made  to 
begin  work  on  diversion  tunnels  on  the  Arizona  side.  Out  of 
Phoenix  on  the  same  day  rumbled  a  caravan  of  eighteen  army 
trucks,  carrying  over  a  hundred  armed  troops,  several  machine- 
gunners,  and  a  hospital  unit.  There  seemed  no  way  of  preventing 
the  long  water  feud  between  California  and  Arizona  from  end- 
ing in  a  pitched  battle  on  the  banks  of  the  Colorado  River. 

Next  day  Interior  Secretary  Harold  Ickes  stepped  in.  From 
the  Denver  headquarters  of  the  Reclamation  Bureau  came  orders 
to  stop  work  on  Parker  Dam.  Six  Companies  laid  off  its  crews 
at  noon  and  called  some  two  hundred  additional  men  off  the 
projected  job  on  the  Arizona  tunnels.  To  Governor  Moeur  came 


a  telegram  from  Ickes  that  work  had  been  shut  down;  until  the 
question  was  settled,  he  declared,  "there  will  be  no  invasion  of 
Arizona's  rights." 

State  troops  whirled  into  Parker  in  fighting  trim  that  afternoon, 
only  to  be  stopped  from  further  advance  by  a  message  from  the 
governor.  Dejectedly  they  camped  that  night  on  the  edge  of 
town,  while  all  of  Parker  gathered  its  frayed  nerves.  The  drama 
of  the  Colorado  water  war  had  ended  in  ignoble  frustration. 

Next  day  the  whole  militia  was  called  back  to  Phoenix,  includ- 
ing the  six-man  squad  which  had  guarded  Arizona  soil  for  nine 
months  near  the  dam  site.  Their  departure  was  accompanied  by 
the  homeward  trek  of  another  squad  of  disappointed  newspaper- 
men, who  had  waited  for  days  with  poised  typewriters,  newsreel 
cameras,  and  sound  equipment  for  the  battle  that  never  hap- 
pened. As  for  the  noble  Julia  B.,  she  bravely  carried  on  in  her 
mundane  task  of  ferrying  autos  across  the  Colorado,  as  though 
she  had  never  been  the  flagship  of  the  mighty  Arizona  Navy. 

The  military  phase  of  the  Colorado  controversy  was  over,  and 
the  fight  was  now  transferred  to  the  courts.  In  mid-January  1 935 
the  government  brought  action  in  the  Supreme  Court  to  enjoin 
Arizona  from  interfering  with  construction  of  Parker  Dam.  After 
granting  a  temporary  injunction,  the  Court  threw  out  the  case 
on  April  29.  Arizona  was  held  to  be  within  its  rights  in  halting 
work,  as  the  dam  had  no  authorization  from  Congress.  But  Ari- 
zona's victory  was  short-lived ;  four  months  later  Congress  specifi- 
cally authorized  Parker  Dam,  and  Arizona  was  left  with  nothing 
to  do  but  permit  the  resumption  of  work  in  the  Colorado  channel. 
Six  Companies  immediately  began  boring  the  diversion  tunnels 
on  the  Arizona  side  and  by  October  1936  had  started  excavating 
in  the  dry  river  bed  to  reach  bedrock  240  feet  below — a  distance 
that  makes  Parker  the  "deepest"  dam  in  the  world. 

Meanwhile  Frank  Weymouth's  aqueduct  builders  were  en- 
countering far  greater  obstacles  than  political  obstruction.  In  the 
depths  of  San  Jacinto  Mountain  the  contractors  who  were  driv- 
ing the  aqueduct's  longest  tunnel  were  stalled  by  heavy  flows  of 
water.  Like  the  famed  Elizabeth  Tunnel  on  the  Owens  River 
aqueduct,  this  thirteen-mile  bore  was  being  blocked  by  the  very 
element  it  was  being  built  to  convey. 

When  excavation  had  first  started  in  May  1933  two  shafts  were 

sunk  down  to  grade  level — one  three  miles  in  from  the  west  portal, 
and  the  other  less  than  two  miles  from  the  east  portal.  The  eight- 
mile  distance  between  these  two  points  ran  under  the  heart 
of  Mount  San  Jacinto,  second  highest  peak  in  Southern  Cali- 
fornia. This  was  the  crucial  distance  which  determined  the  length 
of  construction  time  not  only  for  the  tunnel  itself  but  for  the 
entire  aqueduct.  In  less  than  a  year  the  crews  had  reached  grade 
level  in  the  two  shafts  and  were  working  on  four  headings  deep 
in  the  interior  of  "old  San  Jack." 

But  in  July  1934  the  miners  in  the  eastbound  heading  of  the 
west  shaft  suddenly  struck  a  fault.  From  the  sides  and  top  of  the 
tunnel  a  shower  of  water  rushed  in  upon  them.  They  were  scarcely 
able  to  remove  equipment  before  the  tunnel  was  flooded  com- 

The  water  had  risen  almost  to  the  top  of  the  8oo-foot  shaft 
before  the  contractors  could  install  pumps  to  fight  the  overflow. 
They  had  nearly  cleared  the  shaft  when  an  accident  occurred 
which  disabled  two  of  the  three  pumps  and  gave  way  to  the 
flood  once  more.  When  the  works  were  finally  pumped  out  in 
November  1934  a  third  flood  promptly  filled  them  again.  Finally 
the  crews  were  able  to  resume  work  by  the  end  of  the  year,  but 
could  still  make  little  headway  against  a  constant  flow  of  water. 

By  this  time  Frank  Weymouth  and  his  Water  District  engineers 
feared  that  delay  in  San  Jacinto  would  hold  up  the  entire  aque- 
duct— a  result  which  would  cause  a  high  loss  of  interest  payments 
on  the  bonds.  Little  more  than  two  miles  had  been  driven  in  over 
a  year  and  a  half — a  rate  which  would  bring  completion  in  nearly 
ten  years  instead  of  the  estimated  six.  Early  in  1935,  Weymouth 
decided  to  cancel  the  contract  and  push  the  work  directly.  Metro- 
politan Water  District  engineers  took  over  on  February  12,  and 
with  a  more  powerful  set  of  pumps  and  heavier  excavating 
machines  installed  in  each  shaft,  drove  ahead  three  more  miles 
in  a  year's  time. 

Frank  Weymouth  knew,  however,  that  even  this  pace  could 
not  make  up  for  the  time  lost.  In  March  1936  he  called  his  engi- 
neers together  for  a  council  of  war.  More  than  three  years,  he 
reminded  them,  had  been  consumed  in  driving  only  two  miles 
in  the  key  central  section  of  the  tunnel.  Surface  exploration  indi- 
cated that  several  more  water-laden  faults  lay  ahead.  Clearly  a 


whole  new  strategy  was  needed  for  the  assault  on  indomitable 
old  San  Jack. 

Out  of  that  meeting  was  born  a  new  line  of  attack.  A  mile- 
long  shaft — the  "Lawrence  Adit" — was  begun  from  a  canyon 
paralleling  the  tunnel  on  the  north,  four  miles  from  the  town  of 
Banning.  Striking  the  central  tunnel  section  roughly  in  the  mid- 
dle, this  new  access  would  provide  two  more  headings  from 
which  Weymouth's  hardy  miners  could  carry  on  the  assault.  The 
alignment  of  the  tunnel  itself  was  swung  northward  to  meet  the 
new  shaft — a  device  which  added  over  a  thousand  feet  of  length 
but  hastened  the  shaft  connection.  Weymouth  calculated  this 
entire  stratagem  would  cut  a  year  off  the  construction  time. 

Through  this  and  other  expedients  his  tunnelers  drove  through 
the  mountain  at  a  still  faster  pace,  righting  off  floods  that  some- 
times poured  out  over  15,000  gallons  a  minute  at  a  single  head- 
ing. By  December  1937,  when  the  mile-long  Lawrence  shaft 
reached  the  tunnel  line,  it  was  clear  that  the  final  three  miles 
would  be  finished  within  the  six-year  limit. 

As  the  last  barrier  was  pierced  on  November  19,  1938,  the 
event  was  witnessed  by  hundreds  of  miners  and  a  crowd  of  Metro- 
politan District  officials.  Even  the  nation  itself  shared  their  tri- 
umph, for  a  CBS  microphone  was  on  hand  to  record  the  final 
explosion  which  left  an  unbroken  thirteen-mile  hole  through  the 
heart  of  old  San  Jack.  After  the  muckers  cleared  the  heading  they 
found  the  historic  connection  was  exactly  true  for  lateral  align- 
ment and  a  tenth  of  an  inch  off  for  elevation.  Frank  Weymouth's 
team  of  surveyors,  engineers,  and  drillers  had  not  sacrificed  ac- 
curacy in  winning  their  battle  against  time. 

Within  less  than  a  year  the  concrete  crews  lined  the  tunnel, 
and  the  last  link  in  the  conduit  was  completed.  Then  the  pon- 
derous machinery  of  the  world's  greatest  domestic  aqueduct 
shifted  into  motion.  Power  transmitted  southward  from  Hoover 
Dam  began  lifting  water  from  Parker  Reservoir  and  over  the 
mountains  of  the  Colorado  Desert.  In  November  1939  it  was 
turned  into  the  terminal  reservoir,  which  was  soon  dedicated 
Lake  Mathews,  in  honor  of  the  Los  Angeles  water  lawyer  whose 
indefatigable  efforts  up  till  his  death  a  few  years  before  had 
largely  made  this  aqueduct  possible. 

Another  year  and  a  half  was  consumed  in  finishing  the  dis- 


tribution  system  to  member  cities  of  the  Metropolitan  Water 
District.  On  June  17,  1941,  the  first  Colorado  water  was  delivered 
to  Pasadena,  and  in  rapid  succession  to  Santa  Monica,  Long 
Beach,  and  other  cities.  It  was  the  welcome  end  of  a  long  ordeal ; 
ten  years  had  passed  since  these  cities  had  first  voted  the  aque- 
duct bonds,  and  eighteen  years  since  Mulholland  had  journeyed 
to  the  Colorado  to  consider  it  as  a  source  of  municipal  water. 
To  those  who  had  scoffed  that  the  project  was  fantastic,  Frank 
Weymouth  and  his  hard-hatted  army  had  written  an  imperish- 
able answer  across  four  hundred  miles  of  California  desert. 

Colorado  water  came  none  too  soon  for  the  Southern  Califor- 
nia community.  The  wet  cycle  of  the  late  19305  ended  with  the 
winter  of  1941,  and  in  the  years  that  followed  many  cities  would 
have  found  their  reservoirs  dropping  dangerously  low  without  the 
new  supply.  For  Santa  Monica,  Long  Beach,  and  several  others 
it  soon  became  a  main  source  of  drinking  water.  But  Los  Angeles, 
with  its  own  gravity  supply  from  Inyo  and  Mono  counties,  was 
slow  to  make  use  of  pumped  water  from  the  Colorado.  During 
the  first  full  year  of  operations  only  114,000  acre-feet  came 
through  the  aqueduct — just  about  one  tenth  of  the  ultimate 
capacity.  In  an  effort  to  put  the  project  on  a  paying  basis,  district 
officials  encouraged  new  communities  to  join,  and  several,  in- 
cluding Inglewood  and  Anaheim,  were  quick  to  accept. 

But  other  cities  declined,  believing  their  local  supplies  were 
enough,  and  thereupon  made  a  desperate  civic  mistake.  Today 
many  of  those  same  communities  are  trying  to  gain  the  member- 
ship they  once  shunned.  The  Metropolitan  Water  District,  with 
its  life  line  to  the  mighty  Colorado,  is  the  one  stable  source  of 
water  in  Southern  California;  membership  in  this  exclusive  club 
means  the  difference  between  a  prosperous  future  and  tragic  stag- 

As  the  giant  projects  of  the  Colorado  unfolded  during  the  early 
19305,  the  one  that  had  fathered  them  all  still  remained  to  be 
launched.  Out  of  Imperial  Valley's  project  for  the  All-American 
Canal,  conceived  by  her  water  seekers  before  World  War  I,  had 
grown  the  whole  Boulder  Canyon  Project.  It  was,  as  Phil  Swing 
had  put  it,  "the  tail  that  wagged  the  dog." 

Like  the  Colorado  Aqueduct,  the  canal  was  not  begun  until 


Hoover  Dam  was  well  advanced,  because  its  diversion  dam  in 
the  river  could  best  be  built  after  the  parent  structure  had  con- 
trolled the  flow.  Yet  by  1933  the  aqueduct  project  was  under 
way,  and  the  Ail-American  Canal  was  still  on  the  drawing  boards. 

Phil  Swing  was  then  in  Washington  representing  the  Imperial 
Irrigation  District  after  the  end  of  his  twelve-year  congressional 
career.  Neither  he  nor  Imperial  had  forgotten  the  canal  that  was 
to  free  their  water  supply  from  Mexican  control.  As  long  as  it 
remained  unbuilt,  Swing  knew  the  nine-year  battle  he  had  waged 
in  Congress  was  still  unfinished.  With  his  fighting  spirit  aroused, 
he  invaded  the  Reclamation  Bureau  and  found  the  cause  of  the 
delay.  Although  the  Boulder  Canyon  Act  had  appropriated  funds 
for  its  construction,  the  government  was  reluctant  to  begin  work 
while  other  states  were  clamoring  for  irrigation  expenditures. 

Phil  Swing  then  went  to  Harold  Ickes,  the  blustery  head  of 
the  Interior  Department.  Imperial  Valley,  he  told  him,  could 
not  afford  to  have  the  canal  postponed.  Ickes  took  him  to  a  wall 
map  near  his  desk. 

"All  these  other  states  have  water  projects  pending,"  he  ex- 
plained. "You'll  just  have  to  wait." 

"I  can't  wait,"  replied  Swing. 

If  the  Interior  Department  would  not  grant  his  plea  he  would 
find  a  higher  authority.  Swing  secured  a  fifteen-minute  appoint- 
ment with  President  Roosevelt  and  then  with  his  usual  showman- 
ship succeeded  in  gathering  a  number  of  Colorado  basin  congress- 
men to  appear  with  him.  The  Californian  even  approached  his 
old  friend  and  enemy,  Senator  Carl  Hayden  of  Arizona,  appeal- 
ing to  him  on  the  ground  that  if  Hoover  Dam  was  finished  with- 
out an  All-American  Canal  there  would  be  no  way  to  prevent 
Mexico  from  irrigating  more  land  by  the  increased  low  flow  of 
the  river.  Swing  had  nudged  Hayden  in  a  vulnerable  spot.  The 
Mexican  menace  to  Colorado  water  had  long  been  a  bugbear  in 
Arizona,  and  Carl  Hayden  agreed  to  support  the  All-American 

On  the  afternoon  of  October  23,  Phil  Swing  took  his  impressive 
troupe  to  the  White  House.  Already  on  Roosevelt's  desk  were 
telegrams  from  John  Garner  of  Texas  and  Ward  Bannister  of 
Colorado,  urging  the  All-American  Canal.  Swing  had  set  the  stage 


After  the  introductions  he  launched  into  a  ten-minute  speech 
on  the  canal  project,  finishing  almost  out  of  breath. 

"Well,  Mr.  Swing,"  Roosevelt  responded  amiably,  "you've 
made  a  good  statement  and  you've  brought  a  good  crowd  with 
you."  Then  with  a  sly  smile,  "When  you've  brought  Senator  Hay- 
den,  I  almost  think  you're  right  to  begin  with." 

The  President  concluded  by  asking  the  views  of  the  others, 
and  told  Swing  he  would  send  word  of  his  decision.  The  group 
had  no  sooner  filed  out  than  Roosevelt  called  Senator  Hiram 
Johnson,  who  had  jumped  Republican  traces  to  support  him  in 
the  presidential  campaign  the  year  before.  Here  again  Phil  Swing 
had  laid  his  groundwork.  Forewarned  of  a  possible  call,  Johnson 
gave  stout  approval  of  the  All- American  Canal. 

Next  day  Swing  was  in  his  Washington  quarters  when  a  Public 
Works  Administration  official  telephoned.  Would  he  come  over 
and  help  to  write  up  the  resolution  allotting  $6,000,000  to  begin 
the  All- American  Canal? 

"What  resolution?"  blurted  out  Swing. 

"You  ought  to  know,"  returned  the  voice.  "You  put  it  through." 

"I'll  be  right  over." 

That  day  Phil  Swing  was  able  to  send  a  long-awaited  telegram 
to  the  jubilant  directors  of  the  Imperial  Irrigation  District :  "Glad 
advise  canal  approved  and  six  million  allotted  start  work."  By  a 
final  application  of  his  bulldog  spirit  and  astute  showmanship  the 
veteran  water  fighter  was  making  the  tail  do  some  wagging  of  its 

Surveys  and  contracts  immediately  followed,  and  by  August  8, 
1934,  three  hundred  Imperial  settlers  journeyed  to  the  Colorado 
to  watch  the  first  excavation  on  the  Ail-American  Canal.  While 
the  crowd  assembled  on  a  nearby  point  under  a  blazing  midsum- 
mer sun,  a  huge  power  shovel  ambled  into  place  on  the  east  slope 
of  Pilot  Knob.  Sitting  at  the  levers  was  blocky  Mark  Rose.  As  the 
long-standing  "pioneer"  of  the  project,  he  had  been  given  the 
honor  of  releasing  the  first  bucketful  of  rock  from  the  eighty-mile 
ditch.  With  his  Imperial  friends  cheering  him  on,  the  doughty 
farmer  raised  the  first  scoopful  of  earth  and  dropped  it  into  a 
waiting  truck.  So  far  as  Mark  Rose  was  concerned,  this  completed 
his  twenty-two-year  efforts  for  the  All- American  Canal;  the  rest 
of  the  work  he  left  to  the  engineers. 


Straight  through  the  barren  border  country  went  the  giant 
machines,  fulfilling  on  the  ground  a  plan  that  had  been  on  draft- 
ing tables  for  a  generation.  Within  a  few  months  the  route  was 
swarming  with  dragline  cranes  and  power  shovels — and  a  sun- 
tanned army  of  two  thousand  men.  By  1 935  they  encountered  the 
valley  of  the  shifting  sand  hills,  the  barrier  that  had  forced  Rock- 
wood  and  Chaffey  southward  into  Mexico  with  their  original 
Imperial  Canal.  Through  this  forbidding  land  of  sterile  white 
sand  dunes  the  modern  builders  met  their  greatest  test.  Opponents 
of  the  canal  had  scoffed  that  it  could  never  be  pierced;  engineers 
had  reported  that  even  if  the  ditch  was  built  it  could  not  be  kept 
clear  of  the  relentless  encroachment  of  moving  sand. 

Against  these  walking  hills  the  canal  makers  brought  in  an 
equally  formidable  weapon — a  mammoth  dragline  crane  of  650 
tons.  It  was  so  huge  that  twenty  boxcars  were  needed  to  carry 
its  parts  to  the  nearest  Southern  Pacific  siding,  and  so  heavy  that 
no  wheels  could  support  it  in  those  yielding  sands.  Instead  it  was 
fashioned  with  two  mechanical  "feet,"  each  weighing  twenty-one 
tons.  Mounted  eccentrically  on  an  axle,  they  actually  "walked" — 
seven  feet  at  a  step. 

So  against  the  walking  hills  was  pitted  a  giant  walking  crane. 
Laboring  round  the  clock,  with  floodlights  attached  to  its  booms 
by  night,  it  scooped  up  seven  tons  of  sand  at  a  mouthful  and  built 
a  great  embankment  against  the  shifting  sand  dunes.  As  fast  as 
the  hills  were  effectively  stopped  the  canal  itself  was  gouged  out 
to  precise  form.  Then  the  workmen  applied  oil  or  vegetation  to 
the  canal  banks,  to  provide  a  more  lasting  control  of  the  elusive 
sand.  Thus  the  obstacle  that  had  been  publicized  for  years  from 
Imperial  Valley  to  Washington  was  wiped  away  by  applied  in- 
genuity in  a  few  months'  time.  Whatever  sand  found  its  way  into 
the  ditch  would  be  carried  off  by  the  irrigating  water. 

By  1936  work  had  been  started  on  Imperial  Dam,  a  few  miles 
above  the  Yuma  diversion  works  on  the  Colorado  River.  Here 
the  canal  water  would  be  impounded,  then  turned  into  a  great 
"desilting"  plant,  the  first  such  device  on  any  irrigating  works  in 
the  world.  It  included  four  settling  basins  from  which  fifty  thou- 
sand tons  of  silt  could  be  removed  every  day  by  mechanical  plows 
and  sent  back  into  the  river  below  the  dam.  No  longer  would 

Imperial  farmers  be  harassed  by  water  so  muddy  that  it  filled 
their  irrigation  ditches  and  clogged  the  furrows  in  their  fields. 

After  six  years  of  steady  construction  the  engineering  phase 
was  over.  From  the  Colorado  to  Imperial  Valley  stretched  an 
unlined  canal,  complete  with  flumes  and  siphons  to  carry  the 
water  through  intervening  canyons.  On  October  13,  1940,  the 
first  water  was  delivered  to  Imperial  Irrigation  District ;  from  that 
time  on  the  quantity  was  increased  as  the  last  miles  of  the  canal 
were  finished.  By  March  1942  the  valley  had  completely  aban- 
doned its  Mexican  life  line  and  was  taking  its  entire  supply 
through  the  Ail-American  Canal.  The  project  that  had  suffered 
innumerable  delays  over  the  previous  thirty  years  had  barely 
escaped  another  interruption  in  the  coming  of  World  War  II. 

Less  fortunate  was  the  Coachella  Valley  branch  of  the  canal, 
which  was  begun  in  1938  from  a  point  fourteen  miles  west  of 
Pilot  Knob.  Its  course  first  traversed  the  upper  edge  of  the  famed 
East  Mesa,  providing  a  final  water  supply  for  Mark  Rose's  rich 
farming  acreage.  Then  it  pushed  on  along  the  prehistoric  shore 
line  of  Imperial  Valley,  passed  the  Salton  Sea,  and  circled  around 
the  upper  limits  of  Coachella  Valley.  Beginning  in  1942,  the  work 
was  interrupted  for  four  years  by  the  war  while  Coachella  farm- 
ers found  their  water  levels  sinking  to  alarming  depths,  owing  to 
an  accompanying  drought.  But  by  the  end  of  1948  the  iig-mile 
branch  was  driven  into  Coachella  Valley,  and  in  the  following 
spring  the  first  Colorado  water  began  to  run  through  furrows  in 
the  thirsty  land.  An  empire  of  18,000  people  and  some  of  the 
most  famous  date  palms  and  grapefruit  groves  in  the  world  were 
rescued  by  a  project  first  conceived  thirty-seven  years  before. 

Redoubtable  old  Mark  Rose  did  not  live  to  see  the  fulfillment 
of  his  dream,  having  died  during  the  construction  period  of  the 
19305.  But  Phil  Swing  and  other  crusaders  who  took  up  his  fight 
were  on  hand  and  could  take  pride  in  the  knowledge  that,  while 
the  first  was  last  among  the  giant  Boulder  projects,  they  had  not 
rested  until  their  entire  program  was  completed.  Imperial  Valley, 
saved  by  Hoover  Dam  from  threatened  annihilation,  had  likewise 
been  freed  from  the  foreign  control  fastened  on  its  life  line  for 
forty  years.  California  had  finished  the  monumental  task,  against 
the  opposition  of  both  man  and  nature,  of  taming  and  harnessing 
the  mighty  lower  Colorado. 


13:     California's  Lost  Battle 

The  completion  of  the  All- American  Canal  in  1941  set  in  motion 
a  chain  of  events  which  ripped  open  the  dormant  Colorado  con- 
troversy. Its  first  effect  was  to  rearrange  the  entire  irrigation  pic- 
ture in  the  lower  basin.  No  longer  was  Imperial  Valley  dependent 
on  Mexico  for  its  water  supply.  Instead  the  water  users  below  the 
border  found  themselves  at  the  physical  mercy  of  the  Americans. 
The  old  Imperial  Canal  south  of  the  line  had  been  abandoned, 
and  the  thirty-seven-year  concession  which  had  reserved  half  of 
its  flow  for  Mexican  farmers  was  now  useless.  Irrigators  south 
of  the  line  would  have  to  maintain  and  operate  the  ditch  them- 
selves— a  task  which  would  cut  deeply  into  their  margin  of  earn- 

But  most  of  all,  Imperial  Valley  now  virtually  controlled  the 
lower  river  with  its  All- American  Canal.  At  its  will  enough  Colo- 
rado water  could  be  drawn  off  above  the  border  to  ruin  every 
crop  on  the  delta.  Phil  Swing  had  warned  that  this  very  device 
could  be  used  if  Mexico  sought  to  benefit  by  Hoover  Dam's  regu- 
lation of  the  river. 

"While  you  could  not  turn  all  the  surplus  into  Salton  Sea,"  he 
had  told  fellow  congressmen,  "you  could  do  that  at  intervals  and 
over  sufficient  lengths  of  time  to  prevent  the  increase  of  addi- 
tional area  ...  in  Mexico." 

There  was,  after  all,  not  enough  water  in  the  river  to  allow 
American  improvements  to  benefit  Mexico.  So  far  as  the  Colo- 
rado's natural  flow  was  concerned,  Lower  California  had  reached 
the  limit  of  its  crop  expansion  before  Hoover  Dam  was  built. 
The  whole  low  stage  of  the  river  had  been  appropriated  by  water 
users  on  both  sides  of  the  line,  and  any  additional  supply  would 
have  to  come  from  reservoir  storage.  Geography,  however,  had 
been  unkind  to  Mexico.  There  were  no  reservoir  sites  on  the  flat 
delta  lands,  and  the  only  possible  location  for  a  Mexican  dam  lay 
in  the  twenty-mile  stretch  where  the  Colorado  formed  the  border 
between  Mexico  and  Arizona.  Without  United  States  permission 
Mexico  could  not  count  on  more  than  750,000  acre-feet  a  year 
out  of  the  Colorado. 


Hoover  Dam,  of  course,  had  changed  this  situation.  Arizonans 
who  had  fought  the  Boulder  project  in  Congress  during  the 
twenties  had  argued  that  the  increased  low  flow  caused  by  the 
dam  would  benefit  Mexican  irrigators.  By  helping  them  to  use 
and  claim  more  water,  it  would  be  condemning  that  much  more 
American  land  to  desert. 

In  the  end  Arizona  had  won  her  point.  An  amendment  by 
Senator  Carl  Hayden  of  Arizona  had  been  inserted  in  the  Boulder 
Canyon  bill  warning  Mexico  that  water  was  being  stored  for  use 
"exclusively  within  the  United  States."  As  soon  as  the  Boulder 
Act  took  effect  in  1929,  moreover,  this  country  moved  to  pin 
down  Mexico's  water  use  by  treaty.  Dr.  Elwood  Mead,  chief  of 
the  Reclamation  Bureau,  had  met  with  Mexican  agents  and 
offered  750,000  acre-feet — the  most  that  Mexico  had  been  able 
to  use  in  any  one  year.  But  the  Mexicans  demanded  3,600,000. 
The  Mead  offer  was  rejected  and  the  negotiations  collapsed. 
Mexico  was  counting  on  the  increased  low  flow  that  would  take 
place  with  construction  of  Hoover  Dam. 

Using  Phil  Swing's  method,  the  United  States  would  still  have 
been  able  to  halt  such  added  use  if  the  All-American  Canal  had 
been  finished  at  the  same  time  as  Hoover  Dam.  But  its  delay  had 
justified  every  fear  of  the  Arizonans.  Out  of  the  regulated  flow 
of  the  Colorado,  beginning  with  the  completion  of  the  dam  in 
1935,  Mexico  built  a  bigger  agricultural  empire  than  ever  before 
on  the  Colorado  delta. 

Harry  Chandler's  Mexican  holdings,  however,  were  benefiting 
little  from  the  Lower  California  boom.  In  1938  the  Mexican  Gov- 
ernment expropriated  some  287,000  acres  of  the  property — in- 
cluding practically  all  of  the  cultivated  area — and  dealt  the 
Chandler  company  a  fatal  blow.  But  there  were  other  Mexican 
owners  who  were  prospering  by  the  increased  water  supply,  put- 
ting more  land  under  irrigation  every  year  in  a  race  to  develop 
as  far  as  possible  before  the  All-American  Canal  was  completed 
to  give  the  United  States  the  advantage. 

By  the  late  thirties  American  water  users  took  sudden  alarm. 
If  Mexico  secured  a  right  to  this  increased  use  through  a  treaty 
with  the  United  States  their  own  established  water  rights  would 
be  endangered.  In  July  1938,  American  water  interests — from 
California  to  the  Rocky  Mountains — met  at  Phoenix  to  organize 


against  the  Mexican  menace.  There  they  formed  the  Committee 
of  Fourteen,  with  two  members  from  each  of  the  basin  states,  to 
advise  the  government  on  Colorado  matters  and  especially  on 
the  Mexican  question.  When  sitting  with  representatives  of  the 
Hoover  Dam  power  contractors,  it  became  the  Committee  of  Six- 
teen. Without  delay  the  organization  asked  the  Secretary  of  State 
to  notify  Mexico  that  she  could  gain  no  right  to  water  stored  in 
the  United  States.  The  suggestion,  however,  was  not  followed. 

By  1941,  Mexico  was  diverting  nearly  twice  as  much  water 
out  of  the  Colorado  as  she  had  been  able  to  use  from  the  unregu- 
lated river.  But  as  the  All-American  Canal  neared  its  completion 
that  year,  Mexico's  period  of  grace  was  over.  Knowing  that  Im- 
perial Valley  would  soon  gain  control  over  her  water  usage, 
Mexico  indicated  that  she  was  ready  for  a  treaty.  The  move  was 
scarcely  unexpected.  Having  built  up  her  water  claims  as  high 
as  possible,  Mexico  was  now  willing  to  negotiate. 

Out  of  this  situation  was  born  a  new  struggle  for  the  long- 
contested  waters  of  the  Colorado.  By  this  time  there  were  two 
divergent  opinions  on  Mexico's  rights:  the  American  view  that 
she  should  receive  only  the  most  she  had  been  able  to  use  before 
construction  of  Hoover  Dam,  and  the  Mexican  idea  that  she 
should  have  all  the  use  she  had  developed  since  then.  The  differ- 
ence between  the  two  would  put  such  a  burden  on  the  Colorado 
that  American  developments  would  be  threatened. 

Of  the  seven  Colorado  states,  California  stood  first  in  jeopardy. 
She  had  contracted  to  receive  5,362,000  acre-feet  a  year  from 
Hoover  Dam  storage,  but  nearly  1,000,000  was  classed  as  "sur- 
plus"— outside  the  7,500,000  apportioned  to  the  lower  basin  by 
the  Colorado  Compact.  According  to  that  document,  any  Mexi- 
can draft  would  first  be  satisfied  out  of  unapportioned  surplus; 
California  knew  that  Mexico's  claim  would  consume  so  much 
of  this  that  part  of  her  own  water  contracts  would  be  invaded. 
It  simply  meant  that  her  Colorado  Aqueduct  and  All-American 
Canal  would  never  receive  the  capacities  for  which  they  had  been 
built,  and  that  she  would  have  to  turn  elsewhere  for  a  new  water 
supply  much  sooner  than  expected.  And  beyond  the  Colorado  the 
water  holes  were  slim  indeed. 

As  soon  as  the  U.  S.  State  Department  realized  that  Mexico 
would  negotiate,  the  Colorado  basin  states  were  called  upon  for 


advice.  In  1941  a  subcommittee  of  the  Committee  of  Fourteen 
recommended  unanimously  that  Mexico  be  given  no  more  water 
than  she  had  been  able  to  use  before  Hoover  Dam — 750,000  acre- 
feet  a  year.  When  this  was  discarded  by  the  State  Department  as 
too  low  an  offer,  the  committee  made  a  token  concession.  In  June 
1942  it  unanimously  approved  a  water  delivery  formula,  giving 
Mexico  800,000  acre-feet  during  years  of  normal  flow  below 
Hoover  Dam,  and  ranging  more  or  less  as  that  flow  varied. 

Once  again  the  State  Department  balked.  Already  larger  con- 
siderations were  crowding  in  to  influence  its  approach  to  the 
Mexican  question.  For  years  previously  the  United  States  had 
also  sought  a  treaty  with  Mexico  on  the  waters  of  the  lower  Rio 
Grande,  where  the  Colorado  situation  was  reversed.  Most  of  its 
flow  rises  in  Mexican  tributaries,  but  the  rough  terrain  had  made 
it  impossible  for  Mexico  to  use  any  large  amount.  Texas,  on  the 
other  hand,  had  rich  citrus  areas  in  the  river's  lower  valley,  and 
stood  to  be  the  beneficiary  in  any  treaty  negotiations.  Thus  Mex- 
ico had  everything  to  offer  on  the  Rio  Grande  and  everything  to 
ask  on  the  Colorado. 

The  implications  in  this  picture  were  not  ignored  by  Mexican 
officials.  Years  before,  they  had  made  it  plain  that  they  would 
not  negotiate  on  the  Rio  Grande  without  also  considering  the 
Colorado.  So  it  was  that  the  International  Boundary  Commis- 
sion, which  handled  the  negotiations,  took  up  both  rivers  when 
serious  talks  began  at  El  Paso  in  1943.  Whatever  advantage  the 
United  States  had  as  the  contributor  of  Colorado  water  was 
neutralized  by  simultaneous  discussion  of  the  Rio  Grande. 

Once  the  Mexican-American  talks  had  started,  the  pressures 
of  international  diplomacy  took  hold.  For  years  President  Roose- 
velt, through  Secretary  of  State  Cordell  Hull,  had  cultivated  a 
long-needed  good-neighbor  policy  toward  Latin  America.  Mili- 
tary necessity  during  World  War  II  had  made  American  prestige 
below  the  border  even  more  imperative.  By  the  time  the  Mexican 
treaty  negotiation  was  well  advanced,  the  State  Department  be- 
lieved it  was  being  regarded  in  Latin  America  as  a  crucial  test 
of  United  States  sincerity  in  its  good-will  program.  Being  the 
"underdog"  nation,  Mexico  could  not  be  dealt  a  hard  bargain 
without  jeopardizing  years  of  careful  American  diplomacy. 

By  early  1943  the  American  negotiators  had  given  up  any  at- 
tempt to  press  the  Committee  of  Fourteen's  formula  of  800,000 


acre-feet,  or  any  plan  based  on  Mexico's  use  before  Hoover  Dam. 
Instead  it  began  thinking  in  terms  of  her  water  usage  built  up 
since  that  time.  In  the  spring  of  1943  the  government  called  an- 
other conference  of  the  committee,  meeting  with  its  members  in 
mid-April  at  Santa  Fe,  New  Mexico. 

From  California  came  a  formidable  delegation  of  experts — a 
second  generation  of  water  fighters  in  the  tradition  of  Billy 
Mathews  and  Mark  Rose.  Chief  among  them  was  lean,  hard- 
bitten Arvin  Shaw,  assistant  attorney  general  of  California,  who 
brought  with  him  more  than  twenty  years  of  experience  in  West- 
ern water  law.  Suave  in  manner  but  unrelenting  in  debate,  Shaw 
had  a  dramatic  way  of  speaking  that  was  alternately  deliberate 
and  explosive.  With  them  also  was  another  veteran  of  the  Boulder 
Canyon  fight — redoubtable  Phil  Swing,  now  chief  counsel  for  the 
San  Diego  County  Water  Authority.  Together  they  were  resolved 
to  hold  Mexico's  allotment  to  her  pre-Hoover  Dam  use. 

They  were  not  prepared,  however,  for  the  awakening  in  store 
for  them  at  Santa  Fe.  As  the  conference  opened  in  the  swank 
La  Fonda  Hotel  a  government  negotiator  presented  a  proposed 
treaty  which  amounted  to  a  guarantee  of  1,500,000  acre-feet  to 
Mexico — double  her  usage  before  Hoover  Dam.  Immediately  the 
Calif ornians  launched  a  volley  of  questions,  only  to  find  them- 
selves the  lone  objectors  among  the  seven  state  delegations.  Finally 
Phil  Swing  demanded  whether  the  federal  officials  intended  to 
give  away  part  of  the  water  in  California's  contracts.  The  govern- 
ment men  would  not  commit  themselves. 

California's  delegates  stormed  out  in  a  fury  at  the  end  of  the 
first  session.  Next  day  they  requested  a  delay  until  they  could 
find  how  far  their  water  rights  would  be  invaded.  When  this 
was  rejected  by  the  other  states  California  asked  to  discuss  the 
question  without  the  presence  of  government  officials.  The  upper 
states  and  Arizona  blocked  this  move  as  well,  and  pressed  for 
a  vote  on  the  treaty. 

At  that  point  the  irate  Californians  concluded  that  they  were 
victims  of  conspiracy.  E.  F.  Scattergood  of  Los  Angeles,  repre- 
senting the  power  contractors,  charged  that  if  the  committee 
wanted  to  act  without  any  more  discussion  "there  must  have  been 
a  great  deal  of  discussion  somewhere,"  unknown  to  the  Califor- 


"Now  we  are  not  permitted,"  he  raged,  "even  an  opportunity 
to  discuss  it  with  our  engineers,  and  among  ourselves;  that  doesn't 
seem  to  be  wanted." 

The  Californians  were  able  to  delay  action  for  another  day, 
but  it  was  a  hopeless  fight.  Next  morning  the  proposed  treaty 
passed  overwhelmingly,  with  the  California  men  as  the  sole  ob- 
jectors and  Nevada  abstaining.  Another  resolution  was  quickly 
offered,  lauding  the  State  Department  in  its  work,  and  passed  by 
the  same  vote.  Before  the  Californians  could  recover,  a  third 
resolution  was  proposed,  urging  that  the  government  take  over 
all  Imperial  Valley  diversion  works,  including  the  All-American 
Canal,  for  the  delivery  of  water  to  Mexico  under  the  treaty.  To 
the  outraged  Californians  this  was  final  proof  that  the  other  states 
were  playing  the  State  Department's  game.  Phil  Swing,  who  had 
devoted  his  life  to  acquiring  those  facilities  for  Imperial,  erupted 
with  anger. 

"This  is  the  final  humiliation,"  he  roared,  "and  adds  to  the 
indignity  already  done  to  California  and  its  communities."  Charg- 
ing that  the  committee  was  invading  their  constitutional  rights 
of  ownership,  he  shamed  the  other  states  for  the  "steam-roller 
methods  .  .  .  with  which  you  have  rolled  toward  your  predeter- 
mined goal." 

Chairman  of  the  meeting  was  Judge  Clifford  H.  Stone  of 
Denver,  one  of  the  best-known  irrigation  lawyers  in  the  West 
and  a  leading  figure  in  the  upper-state  delegation.  With  cool- 
ness and  determination  he  replied  that  the  conflict  was  merely 
a  difference  of  opinion.  "I  want  to  say  some  of  us  fully  appreciate 
the  position  California  is  in.  ...  We  think  we  know  there  are 
some  reasons  why  you  cannot  join  in  some  action  and  yet  that 
should  not  deter  the  best  judgment  of  the  other  members.  .  .  ." 
To  Californians  this  was  the  same  as  saying  that  as  long  as  the 
other  states  believed  they  were  protected  by  the  treaty  California 
could  rot. 

"Is  there  any  other  comment?"  asked  Stone,  preparing  for  the 
vote  on  the  final  motion. 

"There  is  no  use  arguing  the  obvious,"  Arvin  Shaw  concluded 

Thereupon  the  committee  passed  a  last  motion  to  strip  Cali- 
fornia of  its  border  irrigation  works.  Even  Nevada  voted  with 


Arizona  and  the  upper  states.  Then  the  Santa  Fe  meeting  ad- 
journed, and  the  crisis  in  the  Mexican  question  was  over.  Until 
that  time  California  had  been  secure  in  the  support  of  the  upper 
basin  and  Arizona  for  a  Mexican  burden  which  would  not  harm 
her  contracts.  But  to  her  representatives  it  was  now  obvious  that 
government  negotiators  had  somehow  drawn  away  the  other 
states.  Undoubtedly  their  main  argument  had  been  that  1 5500,000 
acre-feet  was  the  least  that  Mexico  woud  take,  and  that  if  an 
agreement  was  not  reached  now  she  could  later  appeal  to  the 
Inter-American  Arbitration  Court  for  a  settlement.  By  that  time 
the  Mexican  irrigators  would  have  built  up  an  even  greater  use 
of  Colorado  water,  and  the  United  States  might  lose  much  more 
than  1,500,000  acre-feet.  The  irrigating  canals  on  both  sides  of 
the  border,  however,  were  now  controlled  by  Americans.  Without 
their  consent  Mexico  could  not  increase  her  water  use  or  even 
maintain  the  use  she  had  built  up  since  Hoover  Dam. 

In  the  end  the  upper  delegates  adopted  the  State  Department's 
proposal  because  they  were  determined  to  pin  down  Mexico's  use 
by  some  treaty,  and  because  they  believed  this  particular  treaty 
would  do  so  without  invading  their  own  water  rights.  Arizona's 
reasons  were  more  obscure.  She  claimed  to  share  with  California 
the  river's  unapportioned  surplus,  but  this  proposed  treaty  prac- 
tically wiped  that  out. 

Even  during  the  negotiations  with  Mexico  the  Californians 
were  unable  to  fight  the  proposed  treaty.  The  affair  had  been 
treated  as  a  military  secret,  and  the  government  had  repeatedly 
cautioned  the  committee  against  discussing  the  subject.  Undoubt- 
edly it  would  have  been  unfortunate  if  the  talks  with  Mexico  had 
taken  place  against  a  background  of  California  publicity,  but  at 
the  same  time  this  gag  rule  forced  Californians  to  sit  helplessly 
by  while  the  treaty  was  concluded  in  the  fall  of  1943. 

In  December  the  document — giving  1,500,000  acre-feet  a  year 
to  Mexico — was  submitted  to  the  Colorado  basin  states.  All  ap- 
proved except  California.  As  for  Texas,  her  consent  was  not  de- 
layed on  a  document  which  gave  her  a  third  of  lower  Rio  Grande 
water  with  a  guaranteed  minimum  of  350,000  acre-feet — enough 
to  assure  healthy  development  of  key  agricultural  areas. 

From  the  time  the  Mexican  treaty  was  signed  and  announced 
on  February  3,  1944,  California  roared  its  opposition.  The  secret 


was  now  out,  and  the  state  threw  off  its  gag  and  pitched  in  with 
arms  flailing.  Since  ratification  by  the  United  States  Senate  was 
needed  to  put  the  instrument  into  effect,  California  marshaled 
her  weapons  for  a  showdown  in  Washington. 

The  Metropolitan  Water  District  promptly  got  out  an  elabo- 
rate brochure  damning  the  agreement;  on  its  back  cover  were 
photographs  of  Southern  California  city  and  farm  scenes — all 
being  covered  up  by  a  grasping  hand  labeled  "Mexican  Treaty." 
Leading  newspapers  thundered  that  California  had  been  "sold 
down  the  river,"  that  precious  Colorado  water  had  been  bar- 
gained off  to  get  Rio  Grande  benefits  for  Texas,  that  Arizona 
and  the  upper  states  had  deliberately  knifed  California. 

Whether  true  or  not,  the  charges  were  effective.  A  tremendous 
weight  of  California  public  opinion  was  whipped  up  against  the 
treaty.  Los  Angeles,  warned  that  every  added  acre-foot  for  Mex- 
ico meant  a  loss  of  five  persons  for  the  city's  ultimate  population, 
was  pinched  in  a  vulnerable  spot ;  she  promptly  became  the  head- 
quarters of  opposition.  Senators  Hiram  Johnson  and  Sheridan 
Downey  pledged  an  unyielding  fight  when  the  document  came 
before  the  upper  house.  Even  the  state  of  Nevada,  whose  stake 
of  300,000  acre-feet  in  the  river  was  comparatively  safe,  joined 
California  in  denouncing  the  Mexican  settlement. 

With  the  treaty  thus  becoming  a  political  hot  potato,  the  Sen- 
ate viewed  it  with  a  cautious  eye  and  evidently  decided  to  post- 
pone action  until  after  the  1944  elections.  For  several  months  the 
battle  of  words  raged  on.  By  midsummer  the  treaty  advocates 
had  become  alarmed  at  the  California  clamor  and  organized  for 
the  campaign.  Meeting  in  Santa  Fe,  the  states  of  Texas,  Arizona, 
and  the  upper  basin  struck  back  with  a  resolution  against  "the 
aggressive  and  unrestrained  activities  of  those  whose  opposition 
to  the  treaty  appears  to  result  from  a  selfish  and  misguided  local 

California  was  soon  facing  more  formidable  odds  than  a  hand- 
ful of  Western  states.  By  early  1945  public  sentiment  in  the  East 
largely  favored  the  Mexican  treaty  as  a  necessary  earnest  of 
American  good-neighborliness.  California  was  regarded  as  a 
selfish  child  which  would  not  subordinate  its  wishes  to  the  wel- 
fare of  the  family. 

"If  Senator  Johnson  got  the  necessary  votes  to  kill  off  the 


treaty,"  said  the  New  York  Post,  "it  would  be  a  famous  victory 
for  California  citrus  growers,  but  it  would  be  a  stunning  blow 
tp  United  States-Mexican  amity." 

"It  is  not  quite  clear,"  agreed  the  Baltimore  Sun,  "how  Cali- 
fornia would  deny  Mexico's  claim  other  than  by  brandishing  the 
might  of  the  United  States  over  Mexico's  head." 

Here  was  the  chief  weakness  in  California's  stand:  her  cam- 
paign for  defeat  of  the  Mexican  treaty  carried  no  practical  al- 
ternative. To  reopen  negotiations  with  Mexico  toward  a  water 
reduction  could  only  make  America  appear  to  be  "beating  down" 
its  weaker  neighbor.  Most  opinion  seemed  to  agree  with  the  news 
commentator  who  declared  that  the  treaty  "would  merit  favor- 
able action  by  the  Senate  even  if  it  means  a  real  sacrifice  on  our 
part."  California,  however,  failed  to  see  the  justice  in  sacrificing 
water  from  the  one  section  of  the  nation  which  needed  it  most. 

On  January  22,  1945,  hearings  began  before  the  Senate  For- 
eign Relations  Committee,  with  resolute  Tom  Connally  of  Texas 
holding  the  strategic  position  of  chairman.  For  a  full  month  the 
proceedings  were  mainly  a  duel  between  him  and  a  parade  of 
California  witnesses.  During  most  of  the  sessions  the  only  other 
member  of  the  huge  committee  present  was  venerable  Hiram 
Johnson  of  California;  his  sharp-witted  colleague,  Senator  Sheri- 
dan Downey,  called  it  one  of  the  most  "distinguished  and  intelli- 
gent" but  also  "the  most  absent"  body  he  had  ever  addressed. 
The  room  was  filled,  however,  with  other  interested  senators  and 
water  men  from  Colorado  states,  including  the  spokesman  for 
the  upper  basin,  the  resourceful  Senator  Eugene  Millikin  of  Colo- 

With  the  treaty's  proponents,  glowering  old  Senator  Johnson 
was  unrelenting.  A  fervid  American  patriot,  he  could  not  under- 
stand how  United  States  officials  could  voluntarily  give  American 
water  to  Mexico.  His  course  of  attack  in  questioning  the  govern- 
ment witnesses  never  departed  from  two  basic  points:  i.  "Do  you 
feel  that  you  are  representing  Mexico  or  the  United  States?" 
2.  "Are  you  seeking  to  destroy  Boulder  Dam?"  But  those  who 
recalled  the  powerful  figure  of  the  19205  who  had  rocked  the 
Senate  with  his  Boulder  Canyon  battle  could  see  that  the  old 
tigerlike  agility  at  cross-examination  had  faded. 

Late  in  February  1 945  the  entire  Foreign  Relations  Committee 


assembled  long  enough  to  vote  an  overwhelming  approval  of  the 
Mexican  treaty.  Connally  and  Millikin  had  won  their  first  round, 
and  now  guided  it  onto  the  Senate  floor  for  debate.  There  the 
Californians,  backed  by  the  Nevada  senators,  launched  a  furious 
opposition.  Leading  them  was  Sheridan  Downey,  a  Democrat 
bold  enough  to  oppose  the  Administration  on  Western  water 
matters.  Realizing  early  in  April  that  the  treaty  was  destined 
for  passage,  Downey  and  Hiram  Johnson  offered  twenty-nine 
reservations — enough  to  change  the  whole  complexion  of  the 
document.  They  were  quickly  attacked  by  Connally  and  Millikin, 
who  told  the  Senate  that  the  Californians  were  simply  trying  to 
smother  the  treaty  with  amendments. 

But  through  many  days  of  floor  debate  one  argument  of 
Downey's  received  no  adequate  answer.  Provision  had  not  been 
made  in  the  treaty,  he  pointed  out,  concerning  the  quality  of 
the  water  delivered.  State  Department  officials  had  assured  Colo- 
rado basin  states  that  no  American  projects  would  ever  suffer 
from  the  Mexican  burden,  as  their  "return  flow"  (the  water  seep- 
ing back  into  the  river)  would  always  be  enough  to  satisfy  the 
1,500,000  acre-feet.  But  return  water,  insisted  Downey,  becomes 
increasingly  loaded  with  alkali  from  the  soil,  and  would  almost 
certainly  be  worthless  for  irrigation  in  Mexico.  Could  she  not, 
he  demanded,  ask  that  the  United  States  send  down  enough  fresh 
water  to  dilute  the  return  flow  and  make  it  usable?  State  Depart- 
ment officials  had  largely  evaded  the  question  in  committee  hear- 
ings, except  to  say  that  Mexico  understood  the  provisions  of  the 
treaty,  which  were  framed  to  protect  the  United  States  from  any 
responsibility  for  the  quality  of  water. 

Here  was  a  vulnerable  point,  and  Downey  attacked  it  unmerci- 
fully. On  April  12,  Arizona's  tall  and  rugged  Senator  Ernest  W. 
McFarland  was  making  his  chief  pro-treaty  speech.  The  Califor- 
nian  interrupted  to  inquire  whether  he  believed  "that  the  pend- 
ing treaty  means  that  Mexico  must  take  water  regardless  of  qual- 
ity ...  ?" 

"Yes,  I  think  so,"  returned  McFarland. 

In  order  to  prevent  misunderstanding,  pressed  Downey,  would 
he  not  support  a  provision  that  Mexico's  water  "shall  be  taken 
regardless  of  quality?" 

The  Arizonian  knew  that  such  a  provision  would  almost  cer- 


tainly  kill  the  treaty  in  the  Mexican  Senate.  "Let  us  not,"  he 
countered,  "put  into  the  treaty  something  which  will  lead  Mexico 
to  believe  we  intend  to  put  something  over  on  her.  .  .  .  Why 
should  we  be  so  concerned  about  her  welfare  all  of  a  sudden?" 

Downey  then  made  another  thrust.  Applying  the  same  reason- 
ing to  Arizona,  he  asked  McFarland  whether  his  state  would 
never  ask  the  upper  basin  for  any  extra  fresh  water  to  dilute 
her  allotment.  Now  the  shoe  was  reversed.  McFarland  answered 
that  he  hoped  it  could  be  assured.  "I  will  take  all  the  water  for 
Arizona  I  can  get." 

The  Californian's  proddings  brought  a  quick  and  unexpected 
reaction.  Immediately  one  of  Utah's  senators  rose  and  thundered 
a  warning  on  behalf  of  the  upper  Colorado  states. 

"I  want  to  serve  notice  now  ...  on  Arizona,  California,  and 
Nevada  that,  so  far  as  the  quality  of  the  water  that  arrives  at 
Lee  Ferry  is  concerned,  that  is  not  the  responsibility  of  the 
upper-basin  states;  if  it  is  not  good  water,  it  is  your  funeral  and 
not  ours." 

If  Downey  had  meant  to  stir  up  some  hidden  Colorado  River 
skeletons,  he  was  succeeding  too  well.  The  sudden  exchange  left 
basin  water  men  a  trifle  stunned.  They  could  see  all  their  careful 
calculations  on  future  water  use  threatened  by  a  new  factor.  If 
the  lower  basin  was  not  willing  to  make  provision  for  diluting 
Mexico's  return-flow  water,  it  might  not  in  turn  expect  to  de- 
mand any  quality  standards  in  its  own  water  from  the  upper 

California  was  alarmed  enough  to  send  one  of  its  water  lawyers 
down  to  Mexico  to  discover  her  understanding  of  the  treaty. 
After  searching  records  in  Mexico  City,  he  returned  with  dark 
news.  Mexican  negotiators  had  told  their  Senate  that  the  water, 
according  to  the  treaty,  must  be  usable. 

But  it  was  too  late  to  affect  matters  in  the  U.  S.  Senate.  On 
April  1 7  the  lawmakers  began  voting  on  California's  reservations, 
discarding  them  one  by  one.  Finally  they  considered  a  last  crucial 
amendment,  which  would  have  reduced  Mexico's  share  of  water 
proportionately  in  any  year  of  below-average  drought.  At  this 
point  Hiram  Johnson  gained  the  floor  for  his  only  speech  on  the 
Mexican  treaty,  and  one  of  the  last  he  would  make  before  his 
death  in  the  summer  of  1945. 

"There  is  no  difference,"  he  began,  "between  the  taking  of 
land,  as  we  all  know  it,  and  the  taking  of  water.  .  .  ."  Then, 
charging  that  the  Mexican  treaty  would  take  water  from  Cali- 
fornia, the  venerable  warrior  called  for  compassion  on  the  farm- 
ers, with  their  families  and  their  "little  homes"  in  Imperial  Val- 
ley. "I  implore  the  Senate,  I  beg  the  Senate  to  give  them  a  square 
deal,  rather  than  reach  over  into  Mexico  and  give  Mexico  a 
square  deal." 

It  was  as  good  a  summary  of  the  situation  as  any.  There  was 
not  enough  water  to  give  everybody  a  "square  deal."  Southwest- 
ern United  States  was  called  upon  to  make  a  sacrifice  in  the  inter- 
ests of  international  good  will.  It  might  as  well  have  been  land 
itself  as  water,  for  in  that  semiarid  country  it  is  water  that  gives 
value  to  the  land. 

A  few  minutes  after  Johnson's  speech  the  Senate  voted  down 
the  amendment  he  championed.  Next  day  it  ratified  the  treaty, 
76-10.  Mexico  approved  it  in  September,  and  before  the  end 
of  1945  the  agreement  was  declared  to  be  in  effect. 

Its  impact,  no  matter  which  side  was  right,  will  be  left  to  the 
future.  Then  it  will  be  unmercifully  plain  how  much  the  com- 
munities which  financed  the  Boulder  Project  will  suffer  by  the 
water  harvest  it  reaped  for  Mexico.  And  by  then  there  will  be 
a  hard  re-emergence  of  the  hidden  question  on  the  quality  of 
Mexico's  share.  Whether  American  users  will  have  to  send  down 
more  water  to  make  it  usable  is  one  of  the  biggest  remaining 
question  marks  of  the  Colorado.  It  seems  almost  inconceivable 
that  United  States  negotiators  should  have  sold  Mexico  some- 
thing she  cannot  use. 

In  any  case  it  appears  that  the  litigation  and  discord  that  the 
treaty  has  sown  cannot  bring  the  kind  of  Colorado  River  peace 
for  which  it  was  intended.  But  in  spite  of  all  the  doubts  left  by 
that  1945  decision,  one  thing  was  certain:  at  last  California  had 
lost  a  major  fight  in  the  struggle  over  Colorado  River  water. 

14:     At  the  Last  Wafer  Hole 

The  new  Mexican  burden  on  the  river  had  one  immediate  effect: 
it  stirred  up  the  old  Colorado  controversy  north  of  the  border.  As 


soon  as  Arizona  realized  that  a  Mexican  settlement  was  ap- 
proaching she  hurried  to  perfect  her  own  water  claims.  For 
twenty  years  she  had  held  aloof  from  the  Colorado  Compact, 
even  refusing  to  accept  a  proffered  government  water  contract 
for  a  share  of  the  river.  Now  the  probability  of  a  heavy  Mexican 
claim  forced  her  to  take  refuge  in  the  same  American  water 
agreements  she  had  shunned.  Arizona  could  not  afford  to  be 
caught  at  the  end  of  the  line  in  the  last  division  of  the  Colorado. 

Besides,  Arizona  had  a  new  governor  who  was  determined  to 
build  up  his  state's  water  empire,  and  to  do  it  by  accepting  the 
Compact  and  contract  rather  than  fighting  them.  Sidney  P. 
Osborn  was  an  irrepressible  product  of  Arizona.  He  typified  his 
state  in  his  robust  ambition,  his  down-to-earth  style,  his  stubborn 
individuality.  He  was  the  one  governor  in  the  United  States  who 
never  attended  a  governors'  conference.  During  the  war,  while 
the  rest  of  the  nation  ran  on  Daylight  Saving  Time,  Arizona  was 
an  hour  behind  on  "Osborn  Time." 

His  yearning  for  the  governor's  chair  took  root  in  boyhood; 
there  is  still  a  schoolbook  in  existence  marked  with  the  cryptic 
declaration:  "Sidney  P.  Osborn,  Governor  of  Arizona."  In  1912 
he  became  Arizona's  first  secretary  of  state,  and  six  years  later 
ran  unsuccessfully  for  governor.  He  was  to  have  two  more  de- 
feats before  he  was  swept  overwhelmingly  into  office  in  1 940. 

Together  with  Arizona's  leading  irrigation  men,  Osborn  laid 
immediate  plans  for  the  water  future  of  the  state.  For  two 
decades  she  had  been  able  to  avoid  the  Colorado  Compact  with- 
out harm,  as  her  own  geography  made  early  use  of  the  main- 
stream water  nearly  impossible.  While  California  and  the  upper 
states  had  gained  federal  financing  for  Colorado  projects,  Ari- 
zona relied  on  the  belief  that  continued  progress  in  engineering 
technique  would  someday  make  her  own  reclamation  schemes 

By  the  time  Governor  Osborn  took  office  water  adversities  in 
Arizona  had  forced  her  to  turn  to  these  main-stream  projects, 
regardless  of  expense.  Osborn  knew  that  the  only  way  Arizona 
could  seek  outside  help  was  to  abandon  her  isolationism,  join  the 
Compact,  and  make  the  most  of  it.  Accordingly  in  March  1943 
the  Arizona  legislature  announced  it  would  ratify  the  Compact, 
provided  the  government  would  grant  a  satisfactory  contract  for 

her  claim  to  water  from  the  Colorado's  main  stream.  This,  of 
course,  was  the  issue  that  had  divided  the  lower  basin  for  years. 
The  Boulder  Canyon  Act  had  suggested  2,800,000  acre-feet  as 
Arizona's  rightful  share  of  the  Colorado,  but  failed  to  make  it 
clear  whether  this  was  all  main-stream  water,  or  included  the 
Gila  tributary.  The  answer  to  the  riddle  was  crucial.  Arizona  was 
willing  to  accept  such  a  share,  with  the  understanding  that  it  was 
to  come  entirely  from  the  main  stream.  California  claimed  such  a 
figure  included  the  Gila,  on  which  Arizonans  were  said  to  be 
using  some  2,300,000  acre-feet — leaving  only  500,000  from  the 
main  Colorado. 

On  this  basis  California  opposed  Arizona's  contract  in  hear- 
ings before  the  Interior  Department  beginning  in  May  1943.  It 
was  right  after  the  stormy  Santa  Fe  meeting  on  the  Mexican 
issue,  in  which  Arizona  had  joined  the  upper  states  in  approving 
the  government's  proposed  treaty.  When  those  upper  states  now 
supported  Arizona's  contract  claim  Californians  declared  they 
knew  at  last  why  Arizona  had  backed  the  treaty.  Arizona  argued, 
however,  that  this  was  the  same  settlement  which  the  govern- 
ment had  offered  years  before. 

Finally  California  conceded  that  she  would  not  oppose  such  a 
contract,  provided  it  constituted  no  settlement  of  the  controversy 
and  was  subject  to  the  prior  California  and  Nevada  contracts. 
Despite  these  conditions  the  Arizona  legislature  accepted  the  con- 
tract on  February  24,  1944.  On  the  same  day,  after  the  longest 
continuous  session  ever  held  by  the  legislature,  it  ratified  the 
Colorado  Compact  and  joined  the  other  six  basin  states  after 
twenty-two  years.  It  was,  cried  one  bitter  opponent,  "the  blackest 
day  in  the  history  of  the  state." 

But  to  Governor  Osborn  and  the  state's  water  planners  it  was 
another  step  toward  the  realization  of  Arizona's  water  needs.  For 
on  that  same  decisive  day  the  legislature  passed  still  another 
measure — an  appropriation  of  $200,000  for  surveys  on  a  mam- 
moth canal  to  bring  Colorado  water  to  the  Phoenix  plateau.  This 
was  old  George  Maxwell's  dream  of  the  19205 — the  famed  "High- 
Line"  project  which  Arizonans  had  cherished  for  a  generation  as 
their  state's  salvation.  Osborn's  victory  on  contract  and  Compact 
was  now  calculated  to  provide  enough  water  for  it,  in  spite  of 
Arizona's  continued  feud  with  California.  All  at  once  the  South- 


west  tumbled  to  Arizona's  strategy,  and  the  battle  for  the  lower 
Colorado  was  on  once  more. 

The  bold  move  had  come  none  too  soon  for  Arizona's  water 
users.  Drought  years  and  dropping  water  levels  had  intensified 
their  interest  in  the  Colorado  main  stream,  regardless  of  for- 
midable expense.  The  1944  water  contract  came  at  a  critical 
time,  if  Arizona's  share  in  the  Colorado  was  to  give  her  any 
comfort  at  all. 

Since  the  early  19305  Arizona's  water  resources  had  been  slip- 
ping relentlessly  backward.  Until  then  her  agriculture  had  been 
expanding  through  construction  of  great  storage  reservoirs. 
Roosevelt  Dam,  completed  on  the  Salt  River  in  1911,  was  the 
keystone  in  the  rising  economy  of  the  Phoenix  area.  Farther  to 
the  Southeast,  Coolidge  Dam  had  been  finished  in  1928  to  bring 
a  more  abundant  supply  to  Indian  and  American  farmers  on  the 
upper  Gila.  Such  projects,  together  with  a  wet  cycle  in  the  19205, 
had  enabled  Arizona's  cultivated  acreage  to  spread  by  thirty  per 
cent  in  the  eight  years  preceding  1930. 

With  its  farmlands  thus  overextended,  Arizona  was  abruptly 
caught  in  the  drought  of  the  thirties.  In  four  years  her  irrigated 
land  dropped  by  one  tenth.  The  new  Coolidge  Reservoir  on  the 
Gila  was  never  filled  to  capacity.  By  1935  a  system  of  wells  had 
to  be  installed  throughout  its  project  lands  to  supplement  the 
stored  supply  with  ground  water. 

The  return  of  wetter  years  in  the  late  19305  only  encouraged 
new  crop  increases,  and  sinking  underground  levels  had  no 
chance  to  recover.  With  the  coming  of  World  War  II,  Arizona 
joined  the  rest  of  the  nation  in  a  furious  agricultural  boom.  In 
the  region  served  by  Coolidge  Dam  the  number  of  irrigated  acres 
nearly  doubled.  From  1940  to  1945  Arizona's  income  from  crops 
soared  from  $27,000,000  to  $90,000,000.  The  state  was  beginning 
to  experience  some  of  the  lush  prosperity  which  truck  and  citrus 
farming  had  already  helped  to  provide  for  California. 

Arizona's  expansion  was  placed  on  borrowed  water,  however, 
with  the  beginning  of  another  dry  cycle  after  1941.  Despite  the 
use  of  her  storage  reservoirs  there  was  scarcely  an  acre  in  the 
state  that  did  not  depend  on  pumped  water  for  at  least  part  of 
its  supply.  During  the  war  years  Arizona's  farmers  annually  with- 
drew nearly  500,000  acre-feet  more  water  from  the  ground  than 

nature  replaced,  sending  levels  downward  at  the  rate  of  five  feet 
a  year.  In  some  areas  they  reached  depths  of  more  than  two 
hundred  feet,  forcing  a  pumping  expense  which  ate  heavily  into 
farm  profits.  Other  vast  acreages  lacked  the  necessary  fresh 
water  to  hold  down  the  dangerous  accumulation  of  salt  in  the 

By  the  war's  end  water  was  being  pumped  out  of  the  land 
twice  as  fast  as  it  was  being  replenished.  In  1945,  with  water 
standing  low  behind  Coolidge  Dam,  farmers  in  the  San  Carlos 
area  were  rationed  two  acre-feet  for  every  acre — little  more  than 
half  the  amount  needed  to  raise  a  full  crop.  In  1946  the  ration 
dropped  to  one  per  acre,  then  to  a  fraction  in  1947 — allowing 
only  a  fourth  of  the  region's  irrigable  land  to  be  planted.  By 
spring  of  that  year  Goolidge  Reservoir  was  desert-dry,  and  the 
farmers  subsisted  on  the  slim  supply  from  local  wells. 

Through  most  of  the  state's  farm  country,  in  fact,  the  people 
were  competing  desperately  for  fast-disappearing  water  levels. 
The  race  intensified  when  it  was  known  that  the  state  legislature 
would  soon  pass  a  ground-water  code  to  restrict  excess  pumping. 
Faced  with  emergency,  the  legislature  hastened  to  pass  the  code 
in  March  1948,  prohibiting  any  new  wells  in  critical  areas. 

But  this  merely  assured  that  Arizona's  retreat  would  be  orderly. 
Unless  her  failing  water  sources  could  be  replenished,  warned  her 
leading  water  men,  the  state  had  nowhere  to  go  but  backward. 
Some  175,000  acres  must  be  abandoned  to  desert  and  several 
hundred  thousand  citizens  must  depart  to  more  fortunate  lo- 

Here,  indeed,  was  the  climactic  moment  toward  which  all 
Arizona's  water  history  had  pointed.  The  ambitious  High-Line 
scheme  conceived  by  George  Maxwell  a  generation  before  must 
perform  its  noble  mission  for  Arizona.  No  longer  was  it  a  matter 
of  watering  2,000,000  acres  of  desert  lands,  as  Maxwell  had  en- 
visioned, but  of  rescuing  those  already  cultivated  by  Arizona's 
own  streams.  Sidney  Osborn  and  the  state's  water  experts  had 
won  a  favorable  water  contract;  now  they  meant  to  make  this 
giant  project  feasible. 

Arizona  had  already  appropriated  $200,000  in  survey  funds, 
and  in  August  1944  the  U.  S.  Reclamation  Bureau  sent  its  engi- 
neers into  the  desert  to  locate  a  canal  route  to  the  Granite  Reef 


dam,  in  the  Phoenix  area.  They  found  two  possible  plans  for 
diverting  Colorado  water  by  gravity.  One  was  a  diversion  at 
Marble  Canyon,  near  the  Utah-Arizona  border,  involving  a  tun- 
nel no  less  than  143  miles  long.  The  other  called  for  diversion  of 
the  water  at  Bridge  Canyon,  west  of  Grand  Canyon,  through  a 
more  moderate  tunnel — only  77  miles  long.  The  first  of  these 
plans,  estimated  to  cost  nearly  $1,000,000,000,  was  crossed  off 
with  superb  conservatism  in  the  bureau's  preliminary  report  of 
September  1945. 

There  was  a  third  plan,  requiring  few  engineering  difficulties, 
no  long  tunnels,  and  a  smaller  construction  expense.  But  it  meant 
pumping  water  nearly  a  thousand  feet  high  out  of  Parker  Reser- 
voir, where  California's  Metropolitan  Water  District  diverted  its 
water.  As  this  was  an  operational  expense  which  any  farmer 
knew  was  prohibitive,  it  was  suggested  that  government  power 
for  the  pumping  could  be  provided  by  a  dam  at  Bridge  Canyon, 
which  was  a  promising  power  site  anyway.  Then,  in  years  hence 
when  the  long  Bridge  Canyon  tunnel  became  feasible,  it  could  be 
built  to  take  the  place  of  the  pumped  water  from  Parker.  More- 
over, since  Bridge  Canyon's  small  reservoir  capacity  would  be 
quickly  filled  with  sediment,  another  dam  would  later  have  to  be 
constructed  upstream  at  Glen  Canyon  to  desilt  the  water. 

It  was  a  scheme  which  was,  to  say  the  least,  elaborate.  You 
build  a  dam  at  Glen  Canyon  to  desilt  the  river  for  a  dam  at 
Bridge  Canyon,  which  generates  power  to  be  sent  down  to  Parker 
Dam,  to  pump  water  to  Phoenix.  And  since  the  pumping  is  too 
expensive,  you  build  a  77-mile  tunnel  to  take  its  place,  later  on. 
It  sounded  reasonable  enough  to  Arizona's  irrigation  experts,  who 
desperately  sought  a  solution  to  their  water  crisis. 

The  scheme  required,  of  course,  a  great  deal  of  arithmetic. 
Repayment  of  the  cost  would  load  the  farmer  with  a  burden  of 
$6.50  for  every  acre-foot  of  water  delivered.  Since  he  could  stand 
only  $4.50  and  still  make  a  profit,  the  extra  $2.00  would  be  subsi- 
dized by  power  revenues  from  Bridge  Canyon.  Only  one  third  of 
its  potential  energy  would  be  needed  for  the  Parker  pump  lift, 
and  the  other  two  thirds  could  be  sold  on  the  market.  And  the 
two  per  cent  interest  on  the  government's  investment  could  be 
written  off  and  applied  to  the  farmer's  burden.  But  even  with  a 
gift  of  the  interest,  amounting  to  something  more  than  $1,000,- 


ooo,ooo  eventually,  the  government  still  could  not  get  back  its 
investment  in  the  fifty  years  required  by  reclamation  law.  That 
provision  would  have  to  be  changed  to  eighty  years. 

Arizonans  were  not  awed  by  these  obstacles.  In  mid-February 
1946  their  state  officials  and  members  of  Congress  met  with 
Reclamation  Bureau  engineers  for  a  final  strategy  conference  in 
Washington.  Out  of  that  meeting  came  a  plan  of  action  for  what 
was  to  be  known  as  the  Central  Arizona  Project.  The  bureau 
would  make  a  report  on  the  feasibility  of  the  Bridge  Canyon 
route.  The  congressmen  would  introduce  a  bill  extending  the 
time  of  reclamation  project  repayments  to  eighty  years.  Then  the 
way  would  be  cleared  for  a  bill  authorizing  the  Central  Arizona 
Project  itself. 

On  June  17,  1946,  the  Reclamation  Bureau  released  its  com- 
prehensive report  on  the  Colorado  basin,  including  in  it  an  out- 
line of  Arizona's  Bridge  Canyon  scheme.  Next  day  Ernest  Mc- 
Farland,  Arizona's  lanky  junior  senator,  introduced  the  bill 
liberalizing  the  reclamation  law.  Immediately  California's  water 
men  saw  the  danger.  Hurrying  across  the  continent,  they  de- 
scended on  Washington  like  a  Western  windstorm. 

The  House  Irrigation  Subcommittee  was  then  hearing  a  bill 
for  another  Arizona  project — a  plan  for  reclaiming  some  1 10,000 
acres  around  the  mouth  of  the  Gila  River  with  main-stream  water 
from  Imperial  Dam.  In  charge  of  the  meetings  was  none  other 
than  Congressman  John  R.  Murdock  of  Arizona,  chairman  of 
the  subcommittee.  California  had  previously  been  concerned  over 
the  amount  of  water  the  project  might  use;  now  her  water  men 
invaded  those  hearings  in  genuine  alarm  late  in  June  1 946.  There 
might  be  water  enough  in  the  Colorado  for  that  Gila  plan,  but 
not  for  both  it  and  this  gigantic  new  Bridge  Canyon  project. 

They  found  the  Arizona  men  ready  for  them  with  legal  and 
engineering  data  to  prove  that  enough  water  existed  for  the  two 
projects.  California,  they  explained,  had  restricted  herself  to 
4,400,000  acre-feet  of  apportioned  water  in  her  Limitation  Act 
and  the  Boulder  Canyon  Act.  The  Compact,  they  said,  appor- 
tioned 7,500,000  acre-feet  to  the  lower  basin  in  paragraph  III  a, 
and  another  1,000,000  in  III  b — a  total  of  8,500,000.  Subtract- 
ing California's  4,400,000  and  the  accepted  figure  of  300,000  for 
Nevada,  there  remained  3,800,000  for  Arizona.  Of  this,  some- 


thing  like  1,100,000  was  Gila  River  water — the  natural  flow  it 
had  emptied  into  the  main  stream  before  Arizona  farmers  had 
applied  it  all  to  their  lands.  That  left  some  2,700,000  for  Arizona 
from  the  main  stream — enough  to  supply  both  projects.  It  was  a 
matter  of  simple  mathematics. 

Then  the  Californians  launched  their  attack.  The  7,500,000 
acre-feet  in  paragraph  III  a,  they  agreed,  were  "apportioned," 
but  the  1,000,000  in  III  b  were  not.  The  lower  basin  had  merely 
been  permitted  to  "increase  its  use"  of  the  unapportioned  "sur- 
plus" by  that  amount.  It  was  surplus  water,  not  apportioned,  and 
according  to  the  Limitation  Act,  California  was  entitled  to  one 
half.  This  left  3,300,000  for  Arizona.  As  for  the  Gila,  Arizona's 
real  consumption — measured  upstream  at  the  points  of  usage — 
was  some  2,300,000.  Subtracting  this  from  the  3,300,000  left  only 
1,000,000  of  main-stream  water.  Arizona's  long-standing  Yuma 
project  took  enough  of  that  to  make  the  Gila  plan  doubt- 
ful and  the  Bridge  Canyon  scheme  impossible.  Now,  concluded 
James  Howard  of  the  Metropolitan  District,  if  Arizona  would 
abide  by  these  simple  facts  of  life,  "I  will  take  the  first  plane  out 
of  here." 

Arizona  had  no  such  intention.  Her  chief  water  attorney, 
Charles  A.  Carson,  was  prepared  to  argue  the  water  issues  with 
the  Californians  point  by  point.  A  leading  Phoenix  lawyer  since 
the  19203,  the  quick-witted  Carson  had  represented  his  state  in 
water  matters  from  the  time  of  her  Supreme  Court  fights  with 
California  in  the  early  thirties.  He  now  shot  back  at  the  Cali- 
fornians a  stern  observation:  Arizona's  only  demand  was  that 
they  live  up  to  the  provisions  of  California's  Limitation  Act  and 
the  Boulder  Canyon  Act. 

All  at  once  the  old  California-Arizona  controversy  had  flared 
again — this  time  higher  than  ever.  The  drought  cycle  of  the 
19305  had  not  only  made  both  sides  more  water-conscious,  it  had 
also  depressed  their  estimates  of  the  average  flow  of  the  river. 
Then  much  of  the  remaining  "surplus"  water  had  been  snatched 
away  by  the  Mexican  treaty.  There  was  now  even  less  water  in  a 
river  which  had  never  been  adequate  for  all  demands.  As  an 
Arizonan  had  remarked  years  before,  when  the  Compact  had  left 
the  lower  basin  with  half  the  river,  "It  has  always  been  my  obser- 
vation that  the  less  water  in  sight,  the  harder  the  fight." 

Very  well,  said  California's  representatives.  As  long  as  there 
was  a  controversy  over  the  water,  that  should  be  settled  first 
before  any  more  projects  were  authorized.  John  Phillips,  Cali- 
fornia's senior  member  on  the  House  Irrigation  Committee,  had 
a  specific  proposal.  Reminding  Charles  Carson  of  his  demand 
that  California  adhere  to  the  Boulder  Canyon  Act,  he  asked 
whether  Arizona  would  be  willing  to  sign  a  lower-basin  treaty 
with  California  and  Nevada  on  the  basis  of  its  provisions. 

"I  do  not  think  that  California  will,"  answered  Carson. 

"I  asked  if  you  will." 

"Well " 

"Will  you  sign  a  three-state  compact?"  pressed  Phillips. 
".  .  .  Will  Arizona  sign  a  compact  in  the  exact  words  ...  of 
the  Boulder  Canyon  Act?" 

"We  cannot  sign  it  in  the  exact  words  because  we  have  to  have 
some  definitions." 

"Is  not  that  the  whole  kernel  in  the  nutshell?"  demanded  the 
Californian.  "In  other  words,  you  want  to  change  the  Boulder 
Canyon  Act  before  you  sign  a  compact?"  At  that  Chairman 
Murdock  of  Arizona  adjourned  the  meeting.  Next  day  Phillips 
intended  to  find  out  whether  Arizona  would  enter  any  agreement. 

"Now,  I  would  just  like  to  ask  Mr.  Carson  in  very  simple 
language:  do  I  understand  now  that  Arizona  refuses  to  arbi- 

"Yes,  sir,"  replied  Carson;  "you  can  understand  that." 

At  this  rebuff  California  had  one  other  proposal.  Obviously  the 
issue  was  entirely  a  matter  of  conflicting  interpretations  on  the 
existing  law  of  the  river:  Colorado  Compact,  Boulder  Canyon 
Act,  and  California  Limitation  Act.  Why  not  place  the  whole 
question  before  the  Supreme  Court  and  abide  by  its  decision? 
No,  said  the  Arizonans.  They  had  already  been  to  the  Supreme 
Court  three  times  in  the  19305,  and  California  had  blocked  a  set- 
tlement then.  In  fact  in  one  of  those  cases — that  in  1934  con- 
cerning the  Gila  River — the  Court  had  supported  Arizona's 
present  interpretation  that  III  b  water  was  "apportioned." 
Therefore  there  was  nothing  to  interpret  and  no  controversy. 

California  retorted  with  her  own  arguments.  In  that  Gila  case 
the  Court  had  merely  "remarked"  that  III  b  was  apportioned;  it 
had  not  made  a  ruling.  And  as  for  the  other  two  suits,  in  which 


Arizona  was  trying  to  set  aside  the  Compact  and  the  other  docu- 
ments, she  had  then  argued  the  same  interpretations  which  Cali- 
fornia now  upheld:  that  III  b  was  not  exclusively  Arizona's,  it 
was  not  "apportioned,"  Arizona  would  be  charged  with  2,900,- 
ooo  acre-feet  of  Gila  water,  and  California  was  entitled  to  an 
ample  5,485,000  acre-feet.  Thus,  said  the  Californians,  Arizona 
could  scarcely  claim  there  was  only  one  interpretation  of  the  laws, 
that  their  meaning  was  clear,  and  that  there  was  no  controversy. 

Arizona's  answer  was  that  her  former  statements  had  also  been 
mere  "remarks,"  and  that  since  the  present  issues  had  not  then 
arisen  it  was  not  fair  to  hold  her  accountable  to  them.  And  in 
any  case  California  had  no  controversy  without  an  actual  threat 
to  her  water  claims.  The  quickest  way  to  get  the  question  into  the 
courts,  said  Arizona,  was  to  join  her  in  putting  through  the 
Bridge  Canyon  project. 

California  turned  patiently  to  pursue  her  court  request  through 
official  channels.  Earl  Warren,  California's  genial  and  aggressive 
governor,  wrote  a  letter  in  March  1947  to  the  governors  of 
Nevada  and  Arizona.  To  end  the  dispute  he  suggested  that  the 
three  states  try  negotiation,  arbitration,  or  finally  a  Supreme 
Court  suit.  Nevada  replied  that  the  most  likely  solution  was  the 
Supreme  Court  suit.  From  resolute  Sidney  P.  Osborn  in  Arizona 
came  a  different  answer :  he  would  be  willing  to  talk  things  over, 
but  it  "is  difficult  for  me  to  understand  what,  if  anything  further, 
need  be  done"  for  Arizona  to  get  support  from  California  and 
Nevada  on  her  proposed  projects.  When  Warren  wrote  again  in 
May  suggesting  a  suit  in  the  Supreme  Court,  Osborn's  second 
reply  was  adamant. 

"If  California  would  be  content  with  the  use  of  the  quantity 
of  water  to  which  she  has  .  .  .  irrevocably  limited  herself  for- 
ever," the  Arizonan  wryly  observed,  "all  occasion  for  any  feeling 
that  any  further  compact,  any  arbitration  or  litigation  is  advisa- 
ble would  disappear." 

To  Arizona  there  was  still  no  controversy.  By  this  time,  with 
the  contenders  unable  to  agree  whether  or  not  there  was  even  a 
dispute,  the  Gila  project  had  grown  too  complicated  for  most 
congressmen  on  the  House  committee.  They  postponed  the  whole 
issue  by  authorizing  the  Gila  project  with  a  ceiling  use  of  600,000 
acre-feet — a  figure  which  California  accepted  as  offering  no 

threat  to  her  own  water  rights.  The  committee  also  recom- 
mended, however,  that  the  water  controversy  be  settled  by  agree- 
ment or  court  decision,  "because  it  jeopardizes  and  will  delay  the 
possibility  of  prompt  development  of  any  further  projects  on  the 
lower  Colorado." 

But  even  before  the  Gila  project  passed  Congress  in  1 947,  Ari- 
zona had  introduced  her  bill  for  the  Central  Arizona  Project, 
with  a  pump  lift  at  Parker  and  a  power  dam  at  Bridge  Canyon. 
Calif ornians  saw  in  this  a  direct  opposition  to  the  House  com- 
mittee's recommendations.  The  new  Bridge  Canyon  project, 
placed  on  top  of  the  Gila  project,  immediately  imperiled  Cali- 
fornia's Colorado  claims  to  the  extent  of  some  1,200,000  acre-feet. 
Henceforth  the  long  dispute  over  the  Colorado  was  to  be  a  bitter, 
last-ditch  fight. 

Since  the  end  of  World  War  II,  in  fact,  Calif  ornians  had  realized 
that  the  renewed  Arizona  controversy  was  a  veritable  life-and- 
death  struggle  for  the  two  states.  Drought  had  not  struck  Arizona 
alone.  The  cycle  of  low  rainfall  that  began  in  the  mid- 19405  had 
caught  whole  cities  overextended  in  growth,  just  as  Arizona's 
acreage  had  been  overextended.  By  early  1948,  Southern  Cali- 
fornia was  facing  the  driest  winter  in  history.  Reservoirs  had 
dropped  below  the  danger  levels,  city  fountains  were  turned  off, 
swimming  pools  were  closed,  air-conditioning  systems  shut  down. 
By  summer  some  300,000  farm  acres  went  without  water,  so  great 
had  been  the  wintertime  drain  on  local  reservoirs.  Drying  streams 
in  the  Sierras  brought  on  a  severe  power  shortage;  Governor 
Earl  Warren  declared  a  water  emergency  and  placed  the  state  on 
Daylight  Saving  Time  to  conserve  power.  In  some  cities  further 
power  savings  were  made  by  "brownouts" — unpleasant  remind- 
ers of  wartime  "blackouts." 

The  water  famine  reached  its  climax  in  the  coastal  city  of 
Ventura,  some  seventy  miles  north  of  Los  Angeles.  As  early  as 
October  1947  its  main  source,  the  Ventura  River,  gave  out  and 
threw  the  community  back  on  local  wells  for  its  supply.  In  a 
matter  of  weeks  Ventura  was  rationing  water.  By  March  1 948  the 
reservoirs  were  so  low  that  one  section  of  town  could  no  longer 
get  a  gravity  flow.  Household  faucets  went  completely  dry.  The 
local  elementary  school  closed  on  March  12.  Residents,  alarmed 


but  resourceful,  began  hauling  in  water  from  outside  areas.  Two 
of  the  three  reservoirs  in  Ventura  were  practically  desert-dry  by 
the  second  week  in  March,  and  the  third  had  so  little  water  that 
it  would  scarcely  cover  normal  fire  emergencies. 

Faced  with  disaster,  Mayor  Ed  Gardner  led  Ventura's  citizens 
in  a  last-minute  fight  against  absolute  thirst.  Well-drilling  equip- 
ment was  rushed  in  and  crews  were  set  to  work  at  scattered 
sections  of  town.  The  first  one — drilled  no  less  than  1522  feet 
deep — was  ready  for  use  by  the  thirteenth.  But  it  was  still  nearly 
a  mile  and  a  half  from  the  city's  nearest  mains,  and  steel  piping 
was  a  scarce  item  in  Ventura. 

Ed  Gardner  and  his  water  men  were  dealing  with  that  prob- 
lem too.  Up  from  Glendale,  near  Los  Angeles,  trucks  were 
already  speeding  over  the  highways  with  the  precious  pipes.  Ar- 
riving just  before  noon,  they  hurriedly  dropped  off  the  pipe  along 
the  new  water  route. 

As  if  to  relieve  the  tension,  the  heavens  opened  up  at  the 
same  time  with  a  sudden  downpour.  It  was  only  half  an  inch, 
but  enough  to  send  grateful  householders  rushing  for  tubs  and 
water  buckets. 

On  the  same  morning  a  second  well  was  completed  near  the 
first,  and  next  day  a  welding  crew  worked  at  top  speed  to  fasten 
the  pipe  line  together.  Across  town  another  team  of  drillers  was 
hurrying  to  bring  in  a  third  well.  In  two  more  days  water  was 
flowing  through  all  of  Ventura's  mains  once  more.  There  was  still 
a  shortage,  but  at  least  there  was  water  in  the  faucets.  Tired, 
unshaven  Mayor  Ed  Gardner,  standing  in  his  muddy  work 
clothes,  had  a  word  to  say  before  heading  home  to  rest. 

"After  this  experience/'  he  admitted,  "we  can  testify  to  the 
importance  of  water  planning." 

A  few  miles  on  up  the  coast  the  same  hard  lesson  had  been 
learned  by  quaint,  sun-drenched  Santa  Barbara — a  thriving  and 
wealthy  city  by  any  standards  except  that  of  water.  The  postwar 
drought  had  caught  her  with  a  population  of  33,000 — roughly 
two  thirds  more  than  her  existing  water  works  had  been  built  to 
provide.  Moreover,  her  principal  reservoir,  Gibraltar  Dam  on  the 
Santa  Ynez  River,  had  been  filling  with  silt  since  its  completion 
in  1920.  By  the  end  of  World  War  II  it  was  holding  only  half  its 
original  capacity  of  14,500  acre-feet.  Here  was  a  situation  loaded 


with  disaster.  Detecting  the  beginnings  of  a  new  dry  cycle  in 

1946,  Santa  Barbara  hurried  to  raise  the  height  of  Gibraltar  Dam 
and  restore  the  reservoir  to  its  initial  volume. 

It  was  a  slim  escape  from  a  threatened  calamity.  But  already 
Santa  Barbara's  water  seekers  were  planning  a  new  and  plentiful 
supply  which  would  remove  their  city  from  the  brink  of  thirst. 
The  Reclamation  Bureau  had  stepped  in  and  made  water  surveys 
for  a  new  Cachuma  Dam  on  the  Santa  Ynez,  reporting  favorably 
on  the  project  in  June  1945.  Situated  downstream  (and  north- 
ward) from  Gibraltar,  it  would  hold  a  capacity  of  210,000  acre- 
feet — fifteen  times  that  of  the  older  reservoir.  This  kind  of 
volume,  brought  through  the  Santa  Ynez  Mountains  by  the  six- 
and-a-half-mile  Tecolote  Tunnel,  would  serve  all  the  communi- 
ties in  the  Santa  Barbara  area.  To  finance  the  scheme,  a  County 
Water  Agency  was  created,  consisting  of  Santa  Barbara,  Monte- 
cito,  Carpinteria,  and  other  coastal  towns.  But  delays  and  dis- 
agreements left  the  work  still  unlaunched  three  years  later. 

Then  the  drought  cycle  hit  its  driest  bottom.  By  December 

1947,  Santa  Barbara  water  men  realized  there  was  only  a  four 
months'  supply  in  Gibraltar  Reservoir.  Frantically  they  turned  to 
the   county's   underground   sources.    Six   wells   were   hurriedly 
driven  to  ease  the  shortage,  but  when  water  levels  began  to  drop, 
Santa  Barbara  was  further  from  relief  than  ever.  By  early  1948 
her  citizens  were  on  strict  water  rations — not  an  unfamiliar  oc- 
currence in  the  water-hungry  town.  Lawns  and  fishponds  dried 
up,  and  car  washing  became  a  serious  offense.  A  committee  of 
"vigilantes"  cruised  through  the  city  checking  meters  for  water 
wasters.  Santa  Barbarans  began  calling  their  town  "Sahara  Bar- 
bara." They  squeezed  through  1948  with  a  glimpse  of  calamity 
and  a  precarious  escape  from  thirst. 

Santa  Barbara  had  now  had  enough  of  water  delays.  In  No- 
vember 1949  an  election  was  held  on  the  Reclamation  Bureau's 
new  Cachuma  Dam.  Santa  Barbarans  cast  aside  their  opposition 
to  bureau  interference,  voted  in  the  project,  and  prepared  to 
enjoy  some  security  against  drought  and  water  famine.  With  a 
present  population  of  at  least  42,000,  and  a  water  supply  built  for 
a  safe  capacity  of  20,000  in  dry  years,  they  will  be  getting  it  none 
too  soon. 

Farther  south,  in  that  part  of  Southern  California  which  looked 
to  the  Colorado  for  its  last  water  supply,  the  postwar  drought  had 
an  equal  impact.  San  Diego  was  among  the  first  to  feel  the  pinch. 
As  naval  center  of  the  Pacific  coast,  she  came  alive  with  activity 
during  the  war  years,  mushrooming  from  a  200,000  population  in 
1940  to  450,000  in  1944.  Aircraft  plants  and  military  installations 
which  were  using  eleven  per  cent  of  her  water  supply  in  1940 
absorbed  forty-five  per  cent  of  it  by  1944.  The  situation  brought 
increasing  alarm  to  San  Diego's  city  officials.  Only  the  fortunate 
recurrence  of  wet  years,  they  knew,  was  keeping  San  Diego's 
reservoirs  replenished.  A  return  of  dry  years  could  be  expected 
at  any  time. 

Before  the  end  of  1944,  San  Diego  officials  joined  naval  au- 
thorities in  moving  against  a  threatened  catastrophe.  The  U.  S. 
Reclamation  Bureau  reported  that  "it  would  be  foolhardy  to  rely 
on  a  continuation  of  the  favorable  conditions  of  the  past  four 
years.  .  .  ."  Accordingly,  with  the  hub  of  America's  Pacific  naval 
strength  threatened  by  water  shortage,  every  effort  of  the  gov- 
ernment was  turned  to  meet  the  crisis.  President  Roosevelt  even 
notified  the  Senate  of  "an  impending  emergency  in  the  water 
supply  of  San  Diego,  California."  Under  his  orders  on  November 
29,  1944,  the  U.  S.  Navy  proceeded  to  build  an  aqueduct  to  bring 
San  Diego's  water  rights  of  1 1 2,000  acre-feet  from  the  Colorado 

The  San  Diego  water  men  had  long  planned  to  divert  this  by 
an  extension  from  the  Ail-American  Canal  in  Imperial  Valley 
— a  cheaper  route  than  a  connection  with  the  Metropolitan 
Water  District's  aqueduct.  But  speed  was  now  more  important 
than  cost.  Engineers  figured  that,  in  contrast  to  the  estimated 
six  years  needed  for  completion  of  the  Imperial  route,  the  Metro- 
politan route  would  require  only  two — a  saving  of  four  precious 
years  that  might  mean  escape  from  disaster  for  San  Diego. 

Negotiations  were  immediately  opened  for  membership  in  the 
Metropolitan  Water  District,  and  an  agreement  was  reached  in 
April  1946.  The  city  and  county  of  San  Diego  would  pool  their 
112,000  acre-feet  with  the  district's  1,100,000,  and  would  in 
turn  receive  water  on  a  par  with  other  members — according  to 
assessed  valuation. 


At  the  same  time  actual  construction  had  begun  in  the  fall  of 
1945.  From  the  western  mouth  of  San  Jacinto  Tunnel  the  aque- 
duct branched  southward  seventy-one  miles  to  San  Vicente 
Reservoir  behind  San  Diego.  Like  the  Owens  River  aqueduct,  it 
was  a  gravity  conduit.  Except  for  its  steep  siphons  at  the  canyon 
crossings,  it  was  built  entirely  as  an  enclosed  concrete  pipe. 

Along  its  route,  which  traversed  some  of  the  most  rugged 
mountain  country  in  Southern  California,  men  and  machines 
were  working  furiously  through  1946  to  bring  San  Diego  her 
rescue  supply  of  water.  Drought  had  struck  the  Southwest  on 
schedule,  and  San  Diego's  reservoirs  were  only  half  full  by  the 
summer  of  '46.  Toward  the  end  of  construction  in  the  fall  of 
1947  it  was  plain  that  the  aqueduct  builders  were  racing  against  a 
water  famine.  Some  of  the  city's  key  reservoirs  were  nearly  dry; 
one  of  them  held  only  four  per  cent  of  capacity.  Already  J.  L. 
Burkholder,  superintendent  of  the  newly  formed  San  Diego 
County  Water  Authority,  was  hurriedly  extending  feeder  lines  to 
outlying  districts. 

Finally  on  November  26,  1947,  the  first  aqueduct  water 
splashed  into  San  Vicente  Reservoir.  Burkholder's  men  turned 
it  into  the  mains  as  fast  as  it  arrived.  One  nearby  town  which 
was  not  yet  connected  to  the  reservoir  was  given  a  share  of  San 
Diego's  domestic  supply  through  local  mains  to  meet  a  desperate 
emergency.  San  Diego  scrupulously  reimbursed  herself  with  the 
same  amount  of  Colorado  water  from  the  aqueduct. 

The  sparkling  new  supply  had  barely  come  in  time  to  save  San 
Diego  County  from  one  of  the  worst  droughts  in  California  his- 
tory during  the  winter  of  1947-48.  It  was  estimated  that  by  the 
following  spring  the  reservoir  serving  Chula  Vista  and  National 
City  would  have  been  absolutely  dry  without  that  rescuing  Colo- 
rado water.  There  would  have  been  a  mass  exodus  from  San 
Diego  County,  in  contrast  to  the  unexpected  influx  that  had 
hastened  the  water  crisis. 

From  the  moment  of  its  completion  the  San  Diego  Aqueduct 
has  operated  at  full  capacity — even  at  times  over  its  rated  capac- 
ity. Some  of  the  nearby  communities,  growing  at  an  even  faster 
rate  than  San  Diego,  have  been  allowed  an  emergency  use  of 
water  over  their  allotted  quota  to  meet  a  continuing  water  crisis. 
Even  with  the  Colorado  water  the  cities  of  the  southern  coast 


resorted  to  rationing  during  the  merciless  drought  of  1948.  Citi- 
zens were  exhorted  against  watering  lawns,  washing  cars,  and 
taking  "unnecessary  baths."  In  one  threatened  community  there 
were  even  restrictions  on  the  number  of  toilet  flushings  per  day. 

Since  the  '48  drought  the  Colorado  Aqueduct  has  been  unable 
to  keep  the  San  Diego  area  at  a  safe  distance  from  water  famine. 
In  1949  its  reservoirs  held  twenty-two  per  cent  of  capacity — 
scarcely  a  year's  supply. 

"Once  we  get  the  reservoirs  filled,"  says  J.  L.  Burkholder,  San 
Diego's  harassed  water  manager,  "we'll  be  more  or  less  on  Easy 
Street.  Otherwise  we're  in  a  position  to  get  our  tail  in  the  gate." 

San  Diego's  main  hope  now,  its  water  men  agree,  is  a  "second 
barrel"  to  the  aqueduct.  Owing  to  the  emergency,  naval  authori- 
ties had  not  attempted  to  build  the  first  tube  to  full  capacity,  and 
already  a  parallel  conduit  is  needed  for  the  rest  of  San  Diego's 
share  of  Colorado  water.  Adding  to  the  difficulty  has  been  the 
pressure  of  other  communities — notably  Escondido — to  join  the 
County  Water  Authority  and  gain  a  secure  supply  for  thirsty 

It  was  much  the  same  story  throughout  Southern  California  in 
cities  outside  the  Metropolitan  Water  District.  Facing  the  driest 
year  in  California  history,  communities  depending  on  local 
sources  were  desperate  for  water  by  the  spring  of  1948.  Water 
levels  were  sinking  at  the  rate  of  four  to  six  feet  a  year,  while 
those  in  the  Long  Beach  region  had  dropped  as  much  as  seventy- 
five  feet  below  sea  level,  allowing  salt  water  to  seep  into  the  wells. 
Already  the  area  of  underground  ocean  water  had  spread  two 
miles  inland  from  the  shore,  and  was  advancing  at  the  rate  of 
several  hundred  feet  a  year.  In  San  Bernardino  Valley  the  water 
table  had  almost  returned  to  its  record  low  mark  of  the  mid- 
thirties.  Its  water  men  began  talking  of  joining  the  Metropolitan 
Water  District,  from  which  two  of  its  cities — San  Bernardino 
and  Colton — had  withdrawn  back  in  1 93 1 . 

Throughout  the  Southland,  in  fact,  a  clamor  was  arising  from 
communities  seeking  membership  in  the  Metropolitan  District 
and  the  use  of  its  bountiful  supply  of  Colorado  water.  With  this 
appeal  many  of  the  district  directors  were  sympathetic.  The  aque- 
duct, after  all,  was  bringing  in  only  about  fourteen  per  cent  of 


its  capacity  flow  and  was  consequently  still  operating  at  a  loss. 
Why  not  admit  these  distressed  communities  and  put  the  district 
on  a  paying  basis? 

To  this  proposal  the  representatives  from  Los  Angeles,  com- 
prising one  half  the  district's  board,  gave  an  emphatic  "No!" 
Their  city's  own  Owens  River  aqueduct  was  now  being  operated 
to  capacity.  From  now  on  its  booming  growth  must  depend  on 
Colorado  water.  The  Mexican  treaty  and  the  Arizona  controversy 
had  endangered  enough  of  that  without  voluntarily  giving  away 
more  of  it  to  outside  cities. 

But  some  of  the  other  member  cities  were  inclined  to  be  more 
generous  with  the  unused  remainder.  Nineteen  cities  had  already 
been  let  into  the  district  in  addition  to  the  original  nine,  and  they 
could  see  no  reason  to  halt  the  process  now  in  the  midst  of  a 
water  emergency.  Here  was  the  making  of  another  first-rate 
Southern  California  water  wrangle. 

The  issue  was  not  long  in  reaching  a  crisis.  Near  the  end  of 
the  1 948  drought  year  the  large  communities  of  Pomona  and  On- 
tario applied  for  membership  in  the  M.W.D.  Los  Angeles,  hold- 
ing fifty  per  cent  of  the  voting  strength,  blocked  action.  Residents 
of  Pomona  and  Ontario  were  furious  at  the  rebuff.  All  the  old 
resentments  against  "big  bully"  Los  Angeles  were  aroused,  and 
Southern  California  sentiment  sided  with  the  water-famished 

Then  Pomona  made  a  flank  attack.  Her  assemblyman  intro- 
duced a  bill  in  the  state  legislature  to  change  the  voting  strength 
in  the  board  of  directors  of  the  M.W.D.  Instead  of  having  fifty 
per  cent  of  the  directors,  Los  Angeles  would  have  forty-one  per 
cent.  That,  of  course,  would  take  care  of  its  objections;  Pomona 
and  Ontario  could  proceed  to  get  their  memberships  and  their 
water.  Late  in  April  1949,  before  Los  Angeles  was  aware  of  the 
danger,  the  Assembly  committee  unanimously  passed  a  favorable 
recommendation  on  the  bill. 

At  this  point  Los  Angeles  suddenly  roused  its  familiar  fighting 
spirit  where  water  was  concerned.  An  emergency  session  of  the 
City  Council  was  called,  and  a  delegation  was  rushed  to  Sacra- 
mento to  oppose  the  scheme. 

"Do  you  think  it  is  fair,"  one  Los  Angeles  assemblyman  asked 
a  colleague,  "to  give  the  taxpayers  of  Los  Angeles,  who  pay  about 


sixty-five  per  cent  of  the  cost,  only  twelve  votes  out  of  twenty- 

At  the  same  time  the  Metropolitan  Water  District  directors, 
resenting  this  outside  interference,  joined  Los  Angeles  in  opposi- 
tion. Within  a  few  days  Pomona's  assemblyman  was  offering  com- 
promises, and  by  May  19  he  had  shelved  the  bill.  Los  Angeles 
had  won  its  fight  to  retain  half  the  district  votes  and  was  ready 
to  discuss  Pomona's  plight  once  more.  In  July,  after  heads  had 
cooled,  the  M.W.D.  board  voted  to  consider  applications  of  out- 
side communities  once  more.  By  the  year's  end  the  Pomona  region 
was  making  ready  to  apply  for  the  second  time.  The  emergency 
was  over,  temporarily,  but  Pomona  was  still  looking  far  enough 
ahead  to  stake  her  future  on  the  Colorado. 

Although  the  M.W.D.  had  been  reluctant  on  the  membership 
question,  it  had  been  quick  to  allow  outside  communities  tempo- 
rary use  of  water  in  the  drought  crisis.  La  Crescenta,  Arcadia, 
and  other  cities  received  an  emergency  supply  in  their  mains  to 
prevent  actual  famine  at  the  faucets.  Even  the  farmers  of  Santa 
Ana  Valley,  their  water  levels  dropping  precariously,  secured  a 
block  of  water  with  which  to  replenish  the  ground.  Beginning  in 
July  1949,  the  aqueduct  turned  into  the  Santa  Ana  River  a 
sparkling  flow  of  Rocky  Mountain  snow  water,  brought  three 
hundred  miles  from  the  Colorado  for  the  green  crops  of  Orange 

The  M.W.D.  made  it  plain,  however,  that  these  uses  were  only 
temporary,  brought  on  by  an  extreme  crisis  in  California's  water 
supply.  District  cities  could  not  play  fast  and  loose  with  their  own 
Colorado  rights  as  long  as  the  Arizona  controversy  raged.  For 
California  that  drought  nightmare  of  1945-49  pointed  a  hard 
lesson.  Arizona  might  need  water  from  the  Colorado  main  stream, 
but  so  did  Southern  California's  cities.  They  could  not  afford  to 
relax  their  fight  against  a  threat  to  some  of  the  very  water  their 
aqueducts  had  been  built  to  carry. 

Beginning  in  June  1947,  Arizona  pressed  her  Bridge  Canyon 
project  before  the  Senate  subcommittee  on  irrigation,  chair- 
manned  by  a  familiar  friend  of  the  Mexican  treaty  fight — Eugene 
D.  Millikin  of  Colorado.  With  an  adroitness  that  would  have 
done  credit  to  California's  old  Boulder  Dam  team,  Arizona 


launched  her  case  with  an  impressive  parade  of  witnesses :  water 
lawyers  and  engineers  from  the  Rocky  Mountain  states,  dirt 
farmers  from  the  parched  Gila  Valley,  Reclamation  Bureau  offi- 
cials, and  even  two  full-blooded  Pima  Indians,  whose  statements 
were  among  the  most  effective  of  all.  On  June  27,  Senator  Ernest 
McFarland  summed  up  Arizona's  plea.  Her  people,  he  said,  had 
to  know  now  whether  they  could  expect  their  economy  to  be 
preserved  by  Colorado  water. 

Three  days  later,  while  a  parade  of  California  witnesses  fought 
the  bill,  McFarland  played  another  of  Arizona's  trump  cards. 
California,  he  knew,  was  not  yet  using  all  of  her  water  equity  in 
the  Colorado.  Besides  the  added  water  of  the  Metropolitan  Dis- 
trict, there  were  at  least  1,000,000  acre-feet  not  yet  being  used 
for  agriculture  through  the  All-American  Canal.  Most  of  this  was 
destined  for  Imperial  Valley's  famed  East  Mesa,  for  which  old 
Mark  Rose  had  first  begun  the  agitation  which  had  led  to  the 
All-American  Canal  and  Hoover  Dam.  As  long  as  the  water  was 
disputed,  thought  the  Arizonans,  this  East  Mesa  land  was  fair 
game.  Senator  McFarland  revealed  Arizona's  new  tactic  during 
the  testimony  of  Raymond  Matthew,  tall  and  rugged  chief  engi- 
neer of  California's  Colorado  River  Board.  How  much  more  new 
land,  McFarland  asked  Matthew,  did  California  hope  to  put  in 
crops  by  the  All-American  Canal? 

"That  would  be,"  returned  the  engineer,  "about  100,000  acres 
in  the  Coachella  Valley  and  300,000  acres  in  the  Imperial 

"All  that  California  has  to  do,"  pursued  the  Arizonan,  "is  not 
put  in  300,000  acres  of  new  land  and  they  will  have  all  the  water 
they  need,  won't  they?" 

"It  so  happens  that  the  Imperial  Valley  lands  have  been  one 
of  the  first  water  rights  on  the  river,  dating  back  to  the  nineties." 

"But  not  these  new  lands?" 

"These  are  also  incorporated  in  the  original  water  filings  made 
for  that  project  back  in  the  nineties." 

"Have  these  lands  ever  been  irrigated?"  demanded  McFar- 

"They  haven't  been  irrigated,"  Matthew  admitted.  He  tried  to 
explain  that  their  water  right  had  been  maintained  by  "due  dili- 
gence" since  the  beginning,  but  McFarland  refused  to  argue. 


"Maybe  we  have  differences  as  to  rights,"  he  returned.  "We 
feel  Arizona  has  some  rights  on  the  river  too." 

After  that  Arizona  would  not  let  up  on  those  East  Mesa  lands. 
If  California  feared  a  shortening  of  her  water  rights  by  Arizona's 
project,  let  her  simply  forgo  the  cultivation  of  that  300,000  acres. 
Californians  shot  back  that  even  if  Arizona  was  able  to  cut  down 
California's  water  the  coastal  cities  would  suffer  as  much  as  the 
East  Mesa.  According  to  their  state's  Seven  Party  Water  Agree- 
ment, half  of  the  Metropolitan  District's  water  was  in  the  last 
priority.  Very  well,  countered  Arizona.  Change  the  water  agree- 

Within  a  few  months  California  felt  the  full  impact  of  Ari- 
zona's pressure  on  the  East  Mesa.  In  March  1948  the  Reclama- 
tion Bureau  turned  in  a  report  of  "repayment  feasibility"  on  East 
Mesa  lands,  rejecting  them  as  not  "practical  of  irrigation  and 
reclamation."  A  year  later  Interior  Secretary  Julius  Krug  wrote 
the  Imperial  Irrigation  District,  refusing  to  allow  irrigation  of 
the  East  Mesa  lands  through  the  All- American  Canal  and  offer- 
ing to  pare  down  Imperial's  water  contract  "into  accord  with  the 
facts  as  we  know  them  today.  .  .  ."  The  claim  was  that  the  soil 
contained  too  much  alkali  for  cultivation — a  direct  reminder  of 
the  government's  damaging  soil  report  on  Imperial  Valley  in 
1902.  Yet  the  I.I.D.  has  conducted  a  test  farm  and  is  today 
growing  successful  crops  where  the  government  says  there  is  too 
much  alkali.  Old  Mark  Rose,  whose  holdings  on  the  East  Mesa 
had  provided  the  seed  of  the  whole  Boulder  Canyon  Project, 
would  have  enjoyed  the  irony  of  it. 

At  the  same  time  that  Secretary  Krug  was  denying  the  feasi- 
bility of  cultivating  lands  by  gravity  from  a  canal  already  built, 
he  sent  Congress  a  final  report  in  September  1948,  urging  the 
feasibility  of  the  Central  Arizona  Project,  which  requires  an  ex- 
penditure of  $738,000,000,  a  pump  lift  of  nearly  a  thousand  feet, 
and  a  subsidy  from  power  interest  of  $2.00  for  every  acre-foot  of 
water  delivered.  By  March  1949,  Senator  McFarland  was  de- 
claring, on  the  strength  of  the  Interior  Department's  rejection  of 
the  East  Mesa,  that  there  was  plenty  of  water  for  Arizona's 

Californians  were  aghast.  It  looked  to  them  as  though  the 
Interior  Department  meant  to  find  enough  water  for  Arizona  by 

the  simple  process  of  subtracting  it  from  California.  Her  water 
fighters  were  now  feeling  the  blast  of  Arizona's  offensive. 

California  was  not  without  a  strategy  of  her  own.  On  the  last 
day  of  the  Bridge  Canyon  hearings  in  July  1947  her  congressmen 
fired  the  opening  shot  in  a  bold  counterattack.  Bills  were  intro- 
duced, authorizing  a  suit  in  the  Supreme  Court  to  settle  forever 
the  meaning  of  disputed  wordage  in  the  laws  of  the  river,  and  to 
give  a  final  determination  of  water  rights  for  California  and 
Arizona.  It  was  a  settlement  which  Arizona  had  already  rejected, 
but  which  California,  having  seen  her  slice  of  the  Colorado  nar- 
rowing year  by  year,  looked  to  as  a  last  refuge.  Unless  Congress, 
said  her  water  men,  would  authorize  money  for  a  project  with  a 
questionable  water  supply,  there  must  be  a  final  decision  on  con- 
flicting water  claims. 

But  after  extensive  hearings  on  the  Supreme  Court  bill  in  both 
houses,  the  U.  S.  Justice  Department  stepped  in,  opposed  Cali- 
fornia's request,  and  helped  Arizona  block  action  on  the  Supreme 
Court  measure.  There  the  deadlock  stood  by  the  end  of  the  1 948 
congressional  session.  Each  side  had  taken  its  turn  in  the  congres- 
sional arena  and  had  been  stopped.  But  Arizona  had  vastly  im- 
proved her  strategic  position  and  was  in  no  mood  for  compro- 
mise. She  now  had  both  engineering  and  legal  departments  of  the 
Administration  bolstering  her  cause.  In  general  the  upper  states, 
tied  closely  with  Arizona  since  the  bitter  Mexican  treaty  contro- 
versy, were  also  supporting  her. 

Moreover,  as  a  staunch  Democratic  state,  Arizona  had  been 
able  to  build  up  long-standing  seniorities  for  her  Washington 
delegates.  As  soon  as  the  Democrats  regained  control  of  Congress 
in  the  1948  election  Arizona's  members  took  over  some  of  the 
most  strategic  committee  chairmanships  in  both  houses.  John  R. 
Murdock,  one  of  Arizona's  two  members  of  the  House  of  Repre- 
sentatives, headed  the  key  Irrigation  and  Reclamation  Subcom- 
mittee, which  conducts  hearings  on  the  Arizona  project.  In  the 
Senate,  Ernest  McFarland  held  a  place  on  the  all-important 
Interior  and  Insular  Affairs  Committee,  which  heard  both  the 
Arizona  and  California  bills. 

But  Arizona's  real  hole  card  was  smooth,  persuasive  old  Carl 
Hayden,  senator  since  1928  and  a  member  of  Congress  since 


Arizona's  statehood  in  1912.  He  headed  the  powerful  Senate 
Rules  Committee,  which  determines  what  bills  will  reach  the 
floor  for  debate,  and  when.  Not  long  afterward  he  became  acting 
chairman,  during  the  illness  of  eighty-year-old  Kenneth  McKel- 
lar  of  Tennessee,  of  the  Appropriations  Committee,  the  postern 
gate  of  financial  backing  for  federal  projects.  With  this  formida- 
ble line-up,  Arizona  was  in  a  position  not  only  to  speed  along  her 
own  project  bills  but  to  trade  legislative  favors  with  other  state 
delegations.  She  could  scarcely  be  persuaded  to  tarry  with  Cali- 
fornia in  a  legal  argument  over  Colorado  water  rights.  On  the 
contrary,  she  rolled  up  her  sleeves  for  a  busy  year  in  1949. 

At  this  point,  to  Arizona's  complete  shock,  the  White  House 
did  the  unexpected.  From  President  Truman's  Director  of  the 
Budget,  Frank  Pace,  Jr.,  came  a  sharp  letter  on  February  7  to 
Interior  Secretary  Julius  Krug.  Reclamation  reports,  he  said,  re- 
vealed that  water  rights  for  the  Arizona  project  were  in  question. 
If  California's  contentions  were  correct,  no  dependable  supply 
would  be  available.  The  Agriculture  Department  and  Federal 
Power  Commission  had  also  criticized  the  project's  feasibility. 
For  these  reasons,  he  concluded,  President  Truman  "has  in- 
structed me  to  advise  you  that  authorization  of  the  improvement 
is  not  in  accord  with  his  program  at  this  time  and  that  he  again 
recommends  that  measures  be  taken  to  bring  about  prompt  settle- 
ment of  the  water  rights  controversy." 

California  was  jubilant.  Immediately  Senators  Hayden  and 
McFarland  of  Arizona  descended  on  the  White  House  in  un- 
concealed alarm.  At  first  Harry  Truman  stood  firm.  Ten  days 
later  he  announced  that  it  was  still  undecided  whether  or  not  the 
project  was  "in  accord  with  his  program."  This  time  it  was  Cali- 
fornia's turn  to  invade  the  White  House.  To  her  congressmen  the 
President  gave  assurance  that  he  had  not  reversed  his  position 
and  that  there  was  no  confusion  on  the  issue.  Obviously  the  Chief 
Executive  had  scalded  his  fingers  in  the  hot  Colorado  River.  His 
most  tangible  commitment  was  that  the  situation  was  very  serious 
and  that  he  was  trying  to  find  a  way  to  provide  more  water  for 
both  states. 

The  Californians  might  have  gone  away  more  confused  than 
ever  if  they  had  not  detected  a  familiar  ring  in  that  last  remark. 
Scarcely  two  weeks  before,  the  Undersecretary  of  the  Interior, 


Oscar  Chapman,  had  told  a  Senate  committee  that  California 
might  be  able  to  get  an  additional  supply  by  distilling  sea  water, 
and  that  his  department  would  like  to  investigate  that  possibility. 
All  at  once  Arizona  and  her  friends  snatched  at  the  straw.  Let 
California,  they  shouted,  get  her  water  out  of  the  sea  and  quit 
hogging  the  Colorado. 

Within  a  month  Chapman's  sea-water  theory  had  stirred  a 
hotter  battle  than  ever.  Californians  were  exclaiming  that  such  an 
expensive  process  was  ridiculous,  that  it  had  only  been  proposed 
as  a  bait  to  lure  away  opposition  to  Arizona's  project.  Arizonans 
were  retorting  that  California  minimized  the  sea- water  idea  be- 
cause it  weakened  her  dependence  on  the  Colorado.  In  March 
1949  a  bill  was  introduced  authorizing  research  on  "practical 
means  of  producing  from  sea  or  other  saline  waters,  water  suit- 
able for  beneficial  consumptive  use."  By  this  time  Sheridan 
Downey  of  California  had  a  counterproposal.  Very  well,  he  said, 
let  Arizona  postpone  her  Bridge  Canyon  project  while  the  sea- 
water  proposition  was  tested.  When  the  Arizona  proponents 
refused,  Downey  pointed  out  that  they  were  willing  to  lead  Cali- 
fornia away  from  the  Colorado  with  a  will-o'-the-wisp  while 
Arizona  made  off  with  the  water.  After  that  there  was  less  talk  of 
California  slaking  her  thirst  from  the  Pacific  Ocean. 

Throughout  March  1 949  the  Colorado  controversy  was  in  vio- 
lent eruption  on  Capitol  Hill.  By  the  end  of  the  month,  when 
hearings  opened  on  the  Arizona  project  in  the  House,  tempers 
were  bristling  on  both  sides.  As  the  first  session  broke  up,  a  Los 
Angeles  engineer  took  hot  issue  with  Senator  McFarland  in  the 
corridor  outside  the  committee  room.  When  the  Californian  re- 
ferred to  "you  damn  fools"  McFarland  suddenly  drew  back  his 
fist.  The  engineer  quickly  put  his  hand  on  McFarland's  arm  and 
apologized.  The  senator  brushed  him  off  and  walked  resolutely 
away.  He  later  received  a  written  apology,  and  replied  that  the 
incident  was  forgotten.  But  it  was  plain  now  that  the  opposing 
sides  were  fighting  mad.  It  was  time  for  someone  to  suggest  a 

On  June  8  a  fresh  approach  was  suggested  by  the  newest  mem- 
ber of  the  Senate  committee,  Robert  S.  Kerr  of  Oklahoma.  Let 
California,  he  said,  have  her  court  settlement  and  Arizona  her 
Bridge  Canyon  power  dam,  but  make  the  pump  lift  and  other 


irrigation  features  of  the  project  dependent  on  the  outcome  of 
the  Supreme  Court  suit. 

The  idea  took  hold  immediately.  Arizona  accepted  it  with  the 
conviction  that  she  would  thus  have  an  equal  status  with  Cali- 
fornia in  appearing  before  the  Supreme  Court.  The  committee's 
leading  upper-basin  senators  seized  it  and  framed  the  amendment 

California,  however,  held  back.  This  looked  like  another  wedge 
driven  into  her  water  rights  before  the  final  settlement.  Once  the 
Bridge  Canyon  project  had  passed  Congress,  Arizona  would  have 
a  powerful  new  lever.  It  was  an  old  characteristic  of  water  law 
that  after  an  irrigation  project  was  established  the  courts  found 
it  exceedingly  difficult  to  take  water  away  from  it.  The  question 
of  conflicting  interpretations  in  the  law  of  the  river  required  sober 
and  detached  judgment;  it  was  not  the  kind  to  be  determined 
under  the  pressure  of  a  "rescue"  project  for  Arizona.  Beneath 
these  arguments  was  probably  also  the  fear  that,  if  project  and 
suit  were  both  authorized,  Arizona  might  seek  an  injunction  to 
prevent  any  added  use  of  the  disputed  water  by  California  during 
the  court  case. 

But  when  the  Senate  Interior  Committee  adopted  the  amend- 
ment and  approved  the  Central  Arizona  bill  on  July  i,  Cali- 
fornia's partisans  learned  of  a  more  fundamental  objection.  Al- 
most lost  inside  the  final  draft  of  the  long  Arizona  bill  was  a 
significant  change.  At  first  the  Kerr  amendment  had  provided 
that  no  money  would  be  spent  on  the  irrigation  features  while  the 
suit  was  pending,  "nor  thereafter  unless  the  Supreme  Court  .  .  . 
shall  have  held  that  water  is  available  therefore.  .  .  ."  But  this 
last  phrase  had  been  omitted  from  the  final  draft  sent  to  the 
Senate  floor. 

Here  was  evidently  an  astounding  joker  in  the  bill — one  which 
seemed  to  kill  the  whole  purpose  of  Kerr's  compromise.  With  this 
key  omission  a  Supreme  Court  suit  must  be  only  a  mockery.  After 
it  was  over,  regardless  of  the  outcome,  Arizona  would  still  get 
her  project.  California  did  nothing  but  protest,  however,  until 
the  Los  Angeles  Times  boldly  carried  the  issue  to  Arizona  late  in 
January  1950.  Into  the  governor's  office  at  Phoenix  strode  the 
Times' 's  top  water  expert,  Ed  Ainsworth.  He  proceeded  to  show 
Governor  Dan  E.  Garvey  copies  of  the  Arizona  bill  which  re- 


vealed  beyond  a  doubt  that  the  key  phrase  had  been  eliminated. 
The  Arizona  official  was  astounded.  He  had  believed  the  bill 
offered  "a  genuine  Supreme  Court  test,"  and  would  do  what  he 
could  to  clear  up  the  language  and  make  it  so.  The  Times  ran  a 
jubilant  story  of  the  interview,  hoping  that  if  the  phrase  could  be 
restored  and  the  bill  made  acceptable  to  Galifornians  "the  long 
fight  would  be  over." 

But  though  Governor  Garvey  soon  journeyed  to  Washington 
he  encountered  a  contrary  view  from  his  own  Arizona  colleagues. 
The  deleted  phrase  was  one  which  would  hem  in  the  Arizona 
project  and,  by  preventing  it  from  becoming  an  actual  threat  to 
California,  leave  the  Supreme  Court  once  more  with  no  contro- 
versy to  determine.  Certainly  if  the  Supreme  Court  found  no 
water  available  for  the  project,  said  the  Arizonans,  Congress 
would  automatically  withhold  its  appropriations.  Yet  while  it 
was  claimed  that  California's  lawyers  understood  this  necessity, 
they  were  still  earnestly  protesting  the  omission. 

In  this  shape  the  Arizona  bill  came  before  the  Senate  for  de- 
bate early  in  February.  California  Senators  Sheridan  Downey 
and  William  Knowland  promptly  opened  fire.  Also  wheeled  into 
position  were  California's  other  forces:  the  lawyers  and  engineers 
comprising  her  "water  lobby";  the  publicity  machinery  of  her 
Colorado  River  Association;  and  her  letter- writing  citizens,  who 
implored  relatives  and  friends  in  the  East  to  pressurize  their  own 
congressional  delegations. 

The  heaviest  broadsides  were  aimed  at  the  Central  Arizona 
scheme  itself — labeled  by  Californians  as  the  "Nation's  most  fan- 
tastic project."  Since  the  government's  interest  on  its  power  in- 
vestment would  be  turned  over  to  help  pay  out  the  irrigation 
investment,  claimed  California,  the  program  was  actually  a  huge 
"gift"  from  the  nation's  taxpayers.  Arizona  countered  that  other 
projects,  including  California's  Central  Valley  plan,  were  being 
worked  out  on  the  same  basis.  California  pointed  out  that  these 
other  projects  did  not  require  an  extension  of  repayment  time 
from  fifty  to  eighty  years,  as  did  the  Bridge  Canyon  project.  Ari- 
zona replied  that  all  the  West's  "easy"  reclamation  opportunities 
were  now  developed,  and  that  henceforth  the  requirements 
would  have  to  be  liberalized. 

The  whole  storm  and  tumult  of  debate  was  almost  superfluous. 


While  McFarland  did  most  of  Arizona's  talking  on  the  floor, 
smooth  old  Carl  Hayden  was  completing  several  years  of  deadly 
political  maneuvering  behind  the  scenes.  When  the  vote  came  on 
February  2 1 ,  California  moved  to  send  the  bill  back  to  committee, 
but  was  refused  by  almost  a  2-1  vote.  When  she  began  offering 
key  amendments  they  were  steadily  beaten  down  by  the  same 
margin.  Then  the  bill  itself  passed  by  a  whopping  vote  of  55-28. 
Administration  Democrats,  Southern  Democrats,  and  even  a  third 
of  the  Republicans  had  supported  Arizona. 

Jubilation  reigned  that  night  in  Phoenix.  In  Los  Angeles  and 
other  California  communities  ordinary  citizens  suddenly  realized 
what  their  water  men  had  been  warning  them  about  for  months 
— that  their  water  foundations  stood  in  absolute  peril.  Overnight 
California  changed  places  with  Arizona  as  the  "underdog"  of  the 
Colorado  fight. 

Both  sides  moved  resolutely  to  a  final  clash  in  the  House, 
where  the  Arizona  measure  was  still  bottled  up  in  committee.  The 
Californians  now  looked  to  a  superiority  in  numbers  as  a  last 
hope  in  the  weary  twenty-seven-year  battle.  Arizona,  elated  by 
the  Senate  victory,  turned  to  pursue  new  strategy  in  the  final 
drive  for  her  project. 

"It  doesn't  make  any  difference  what  it  costs,"  claimed  the 
president  of  the  Central  Arizona  Project  Association.  "If  we  don't 
get  water  here,  we  will  go  the  way  of  Carthage.  .  .  ." 

"All  we  want,"  said  Governor  Earl  Warren  of  California,  "is 
our  day  in  court." 

Through  it  all  the  Colorado  flowed  silently  on  into  the  Gulf 
of  California,  causing  as  much  trouble  tamed  as  it  had  when  free. 

15:     The  Water  Quest 

It  has  long  been  plain  to  water  men  that  no  matter  how  the 
California-Arizona  controversy  is  resolved  it  can  provide  no  final 
answer  to  the  Southwest's  water  dilemma.  For  more  than  twenty 
years  they  have  known  that  there  is  not  enough  water  in  the 
Colorado  for  all  the  arable  land  within  its  reach.  This  is,  of 
course,  the  hard  fact  which  has  created  and  maintained  the  bitter 

Colorado  feud.  To  the  cities  of  Southern  California  a  Supreme 
Court  decision  will  actually  be  a  beginning — a  definition  of  avail- 
able supply  that  will  be  a  starting  point  for  still  further  water 

Across  Southern  California  are  myriad  cities  which  will  never 
see  Colorado  water.  Without  an  outside  source  they  not  only 
must  stop  growing  but  will  be  unable  to  fill  out  their  population 
limit  in  the  wet  years  without  fearing  a  water  famine  in  the  dry. 
To  many  of  these  cities  the  postwar  drought  gave  final  notice  that 
the  end  of  expansion  had  been  reached. 

For  members  of  the  Metropolitan  Water  District  that  point  is 
deferred  to  a  future  date — to  about  1968  for  the  city  of  Los 
Angeles.  Without  taking  into  consideration  the  Arizona  dispute, 
that  is  the  estimate  of  engineers.  If  California  is  defeated, 
M.W.D.  officials  figure  they  will  lose  at  least  half  their  contracted 
supply.  Unless  the  entire  framework  of  water  priorities  and  fed- 
eral contracts  can  be  upset,  to  the  distress  of  prior  agricultural 
users,  Los  Angeles  and  its  neighbors  will  need  a  new  source  much 
earlier  than  1968.  Even  that  date,  as  one  Los  Angeles  water 
official  says,  "is  practically  tomorrow." 

From  its  inception  to  its  completion  the  Owens  River  aqueduct 
took  nine  years.  The  Colorado  Aqueduct  took  seventeen.  It  may 
be  expected  that  any  new  aqueduct,  which  must  necessarily  go 
hundreds  of  miles  farther  afield  than  either  of  these,  will  take 
even  longer.  Thus  it  does  not  take  much  arithmetic  to  conclude 
that  the  cities  of  Southern  California  are  already  growing  on 
borrowed  time. 

To  the  men  who  must  search  the  map  for  other  sources  the 
next  leap  for  water  is  almost  incalculable.  Beyond  the  Colorado 
there  is  no  river  of  consequence  in  the  Southwest  that  is  not 
already  pre-empted.  This  cold  fact  has  forced  the  water  seekers 
to  give  full  rein  to  the  imagination.  One  of  the  desperate  possi- 
bilities has  been  the  Columbia. 

Rising  in  the  snow-covered  ranges  of  Canada  and  the  North- 
western states,  the  Columbia  River  is  second  in  America  in 
volume  of  flow.  It  carries  the  tidy  quantity  of  160,000,000  acre- 
feet  annually — nearly  ten  times  the  capacity  of  the  Colorado,  and 
more  than  all  other  Western  rivers  combined.  Its  monumental 
Grand  Coulee  Dam  and  other  developments  have  not  begun  to 


use  its  flow;  Reclamation  men  say  all  the  most  remote  projects  in 
the  Pacific  Northwest  could  not  use  it  all.  The  Columbia's 
volume  could  water  twice  the  20,000,000  acres  now  under  irriga- 
tion in  the  United  States. 

Still,  the  people  of  the  Northwest,  like  all  Westerners,  are  quite 
aware  that  water  is  the  foundation  of  development.  In  1947, 
when  a  California  congressman  proposed  a  federal  investigation 
of  the  chances  of  diverting  Columbia  water  to  California,  Wash- 
ington and  Oregon  rose  in  alarm.  The  Reclamation  Bureau  has 
been  quick  to  assure  them  that  nothing  but  surplus  water,  beyond 
that  necessary  to  serve  all  possible  Northwest  projects,  could  be 
diverted.  To  water-hungry  Californians  this  leaves  more  water 
than  they  have  ever  used  before.  Such  a  diversion,  however, 
would  be  fabulously  expensive,  and  for  this  reason  the  proposal 
has  not  gone  beyond  the  "talking  stage." 

In  the  fall  of  1949  the  Reclamation  Bureau  prepared  to  open 
serious  investigation  on  a  grand  scheme  to  divert  Columbia  water 
below  Bonneville  Dam — not  only  to  California,  but  to  arable  lands 
awaiting  development  in  other  Western  states  outside  the  Co- 
lumbia basin.  Undoubtedly  this  would  be  the  keystone  of  a  vast 
plan,  cherished  by  Reclamation  officials,  eventually  to  distribute 
the  West's  water  onto  all  its  parched  deserts  by  an  amazing  inte- 
gration of  streams  and  watersheds.  Whether  this  program  would 
come  in  conflict  with  those  of  California  cities  who  may  someday 
look  to  the  Columbia  is  still  a  remote  question.  But  neither  faction 
has  been  known  for  its  backwardness  where  water  is  concerned. 
Even  now  the  Reclamation  Bureau  is  scrapping  with  the  Army 
engineers  for  jurisdiction  over  water  projects,  with  groups  who 
oppose  strict  application  of  its  i  Go-acre  limitation  on  project 
farms,  and  with  those  who  object  to  its  interference  and  regula- 
tions in  state  irrigation  affairs.  Should  this  powerful  government 
arm  clash  with  the  veteran  water  fighters  of  Southern  California, 
the  West  may  see  a  water  war  to  dwarf  all  others. 

A  less  formidable  scheme  than  a  Columbia  diversion,  but  one 
still  fantastic  by  any  existing  comparisons,  is  a  supply  for  South- 
ern California  cities  from  the  state's  water-laden  northwest  cor- 
ner. Here  in  the  gushing,  snow-fed  rivers  of  the  Eel,  the  Trinity, 
the  Klamath,  undreamed  quantities  of  water  are  running  unused 
to  the  sea.  In  this  corner  of  California  are  some  two  per  cent  of 

the  people  and  over  thirty-seven  per  cent  of  the  water.  For  South- 
ern California,  which  has  sixty  per  cent  of  the  people  and  under 
two  per  cent  of  the  water,  a  little  redistribution  would  be 

To  bring  such  a  supply  to  their  faucets  would  require  an  aque- 
duct some  six  hundred  miles  long.  Whether  the  coast  route  or  the 
San  Joaquin  route  would  be  more  feasible  is  probably  still  un- 
determined, but  the  first  would  require  a  much  longer  conduit 
and  the  second  some  huge  tunnels  and  pump  lifts.  The  great 
advantage  of  the  proposal,  however,  is  that  California  would 
not  have  to  go  across  state  lines  for  water  agreements  and  rights 
of  way — unless,  of  course,  the  project  included  the  Rogue  and 
Umpqua  rivers  of  southern  Oregon. 

Short  of  such  projects  as  these,  which  are  still  remote  visions 
of  the  future,  Los  Angeles  and  its  neighbors  must  turn  to  unusual 
local  methods  of  water  development.  The  Los  Angeles  Daily 
News  has  had  much  to  say  about  reclaimed  sewer  water,  which 
could  be  chemically  treated  and  purified  for  re-use.  For  obvious 
reasons  the  idea  has  stirred  little  enthusiasm.  But  man's  squeam- 
ishness  over  the  character  of  the  water  he  uses  has  usually  been 
in  direct  ratio  to  its  abundance.  Given  another  water  famine  or 
two,  Southern  Calif ornians  may  look  upon  reclaimed  sewer  water 
with  less  disdain.  At  least  it  seems  feasible  to  turn  it  back  into  the 
soil  to  replenish  the  underground  irrigation  water  in  the  Los 
Angeles  basin. 

In  the  summer  of  1948,  Southern  Calif  ornians  received  heart- 
warming water  news.  Both  in  private  experiments  in  Arizona  and 
in  government  tests  in  Ohio,  scientists  had  been  able  to  make  rain 
artificially.  Airplanes  had  scattered  tiny  pellets  of  dry  ice  into  the 
tops  of  rain  clouds,  causing  precipitation. 

The  thought  that  man  was  making  headway  in  harnessing  the 
elements  gave  a  strange  exhilaration  to  Southwesterners.  Their 
lives,  and  the  history  of  their  region,  had  largely  been  shaped  by 
a  struggle  with  nature's  inflictions.  They  could  not  help  recalling 
with  gusto  the  words  of  Mark  Twain:  "Everybody  talks  about  the 
weather,  but  nobody  does  anything  about  it."  At  last  man  was 
doing  something  about  it,  opening  up  a  whole  new  frontier  in 
the  conquest  of  the  earth. 

Of  course  rain  making,  in  a  pseudo-scientific  way,  was  familiar 


enough  to  Californians.  Southwestern  Indians  had  their  tribal 
ceremonies  and  incantations  which  they  claimed  could  open  up 
the  clouds.  Professional  contractors,  notably  Hatfield  the  Rain- 
maker, made  a  living  at  it  for  decades,  setting  up  their  chemical 
tanks  and  sending  the  right  kind  of  smoke  into  the  right  kind  of 
clouds.  Nobody  was  ever  sure  whether  they  were  accomplished 
technicians  or  just  skilled  gamblers. 

But  today  rain  making  is  a  respectable  science.  Leading  experi- 
menter is  Dr.  Irving  Krick,  who  evolved  a  new  system  of  long- 
range  weather  forecasting  while  a  professor  at  California  Insti- 
tute of  Technology,  and  who  gained  fame  as  General  Dwight 
Eisenhower's  chief  weather  adviser  in  the  1944  Normandy  inva- 
sion. His  unorthodox  methods  of  making  practical  use  of  still 
unproved  theories  has  raised  the  eyebrows  of  many  a  distin- 
guished meteorologist.  Nevertheless,  Irving  Krick  is  a  scientist 
who  gets  things  done,  and  his  work  in  artificial  rain  making  has 
had  real  results  in  tested  areas  of  the  Southwest. 

In  the  summer  of  1948  he  conducted  twenty-seven  air  flights 
over  the  Salt  and  Verde  valleys  of  central  Arizona,  dropping 
from  150  to  300  pounds  of  ice  particles  at  a  time.  The  clouds 
thus  "seeded"  performed  satisfactorily.  Local  reservoirs  gained 
1 2,000  acre-feet  more  than  the  average  runoff  for  the  period.  Not 
all  of  that,  admitted  the  rain  makers,  was  their  own  doing,  but 
in  a  year  that  was  one  of  the  driest  on  record  elsewhere  it  was  a 
significant  testimony.  Financially  the  venture  was  also  promising. 
Water  that  was  worth  $14  an  acre-foot  in  Arizona  had  been  pro- 
vided at  a  cost  of  $2.50  an  acre-foot.  Even  the  most  skeptical 
water  men  began  to  concede  that  Dr.  Krick  was  on  the  right 

By  late  December  1949  the  Southwest  heard  of  his  latest 
advance.  Mobile  "smoke  dispensers,"  blowing  vaporized  silver 
iodide  into  the  air,  had  made  rain  from  the  ground,  without  need 
of  airplanes  and  dry  ice.  The  rain-making  units,  which  were  each 
small  enough  to  be  moved  by  two  large  wheelbarrows,  were 
placed  on  the  windward  side  of  a  hill.  Once  started,  the  blower 
could  send  no  less  than  six  quadrillion  particles  of  iodide  into  the 
air  every  minute,  each  one  capable  of  precipitating  one  raindrop. 
A  rising  cone  of  iodide  "smoke"  could  be  carried  along  by  the 
wind  as  far  away  as  thirty  miles  and  was  able  to  bring  rain  over 


an  area  of  about  240  square  miles.  In  some  of  the  tests,  precipita- 
tion was  about  four  times  greater  than  outside  the  effective  cone. 

"The  additional  rain/'  concluded  Dr.  Krick,  "could  not  have 
been  due  to  other  causes." 

To  many  an  old-timer  the  whole  business  sounded  familiarly 
like  Hatfield's  rain-making  machines.  But  apparently  this  was  no 
random  experiment.  Krick's  tests  were  based  on  scientific  calcula- 
tion. Moreover,  the  cost  was  almost  negligible — something  like 
ten  cents  an  acre-foot.  Given  fifteen  of  the  dispensers,  said  Krick, 
he  could  double  the  runoff  in  the  Salt  and  Verde  valleys  from 
1,000,000  to  2,000,000  acre-feet  a  year. 

This  was  the  kind  of  talk  to  make  a  thirsty  Southwest  come 
alive  with  interest.  If  true,  it  meant  a  revolution  in  agriculture, 
in  economics,  in  the  whole  civilization  of  the  arid  country.  A 
committee  of  California  congressmen,  formed  especially  to  study 
rain  making,  promptly  recommended  hiring  Dr.  Krick  and  other 
experts  to  conduct  snow-making  tests  in  the  Sierras.  Sheridan 
Downey  introduced  an  amendment  to  a  Senate  bill  calling  for  a 
government  rain-making  program. 

Other  Galifornians  undoubtedly  decided  that  here  was  an 
effective  answer  to  one  of  Arizona's  gibes  in  the  Colorado  fight. 
She  had  said  that  California  could  use  water  from  the  sea.  Very 
well,  let  Arizona  get  her  water  from  the  rain  makers.  At  the  same 
time  the  discoveries  raised  a  moral  question.  Who  was  to  decide 
where  a  rain  cloud  should  shed  its  precious  burden?  Could  not 
the  people  in  the  next  valley,  or  the  next  state,  object  that  the 
rain  would  have  fallen  naturally  on  their  lands  if  the  rain  makers 
had  not  interfered?  To  make  sure,  one  Nevada  rancher  had 
already  gone  to  state  officials  and  secured  a  legal  claim  to  "full 
possession  and  rights  thereof"  on  water  in  clouds  over  his  prop- 
erty. The  whole  question  might  have  been  a  laughing  matter  if 
Westerners  did  not  take  their  water  dead  seriously.  It  was  clear 
that  a  lot  of  trouble  could  be  aroused  if  this  rain  making  got  out 
of  hand,  and  that  state  legislatures  might  find  themselves  regu- 
lating the  water  not  only  under  the  earth  but  in  the  heavens 

While  such  methods  of  water  development  have  tremendous 
implications,  they  must  still  depend  on  basic  weather  conditions. 
Krick's  dispensers  cannot  make  rain  without  clouds.  Given  the 


right  conditions,  they  merely  stimulate  them  to  give  rain  in  the 
right  places  and  more  generously.  But  in  years  of  drought,  when 
Southwestern  skies  may  be  cloudless  for  months  at  a  time,  water 
users  could  only  fall  back  heavily  on  their  stored  reserves.  Cer- 
tainly any  system  linked  to  the  vagaries  of  Western  weather  has 
its  limitations. 

At  the  other  extreme  is  the  plan  of  distilling  sea  water  for  use 
by  California's  coastal  cities.  Once  such  a  scheme  proves  feasible, 
the  source  is  limitless.  Not  only  are  the  five  oceans  of  the  world 
available,  but  in  the  last  analysis  there  can  be  no  actual  con- 
sumptive use  of  a  commodity  that  will  eventually  find  its  way 
back  to  the  source.  A  cheap  method  of  freshening  sea  water 
would  be  a  universal  solution  to  the  world's  water  problem — at 
least  in  the  populated  coastal  areas. 

There  is,  of  course,  no  mystery  in  the  basic  processes.  Sea 
water  can  be  freshened  by  chemical  action  or  by  distillation. 
During  the  war  sheer  necessity  forced  the  U.  S.  Navy  to  perfect 
a  method  of  purifying  water  on  shipboard  and  on  the  myriad 
small  Pacific  islands  having  no  drinking  water  of  their  own.  The 
biggest  problem  was  not  cost  but  fuel.  Unless  the  volume  of  fresh 
water  manufactured  far  exceeded  the  amount  of  fuel  necessary 
in  the  distilling  process,  the  ships  might  as  well  continue  to  trans- 
port water  from  regular  sources.  It  was  not  long  before  the  key 
to  the  riddle  was  discovered.  Distilling  equipment  was  insulated, 
so  that  the  steam  itself  generated  most  of  the  heat.  Water-fresh- 
ening units  were  developed  to  produce  100,000  gallons  a  day,  or 
as  much  as  24  gallons  of  water  for  every  gallon  of  Diesel  fuel. 

Since  then  the  process  has  been  further  improved.  Between 
150  and  200  gallons  can  now  be  made  for  every  gallon  of  fuel,  at 
a  cost  equivalent  to  about  $187  an  acre-foot.  Whether  the  con- 
tinued improvement  of  this  process  could  successfully  provide  a 
supply  for  a  metropolis  of  several  million  people  is  still  doubtful. 
In  1949  a  Los  Angeles  County  official  suggested  that  the  state 
legislature  offer  $1,000,000  reward  for  a  practical  method  of 
mass-producing  fresh  water  from  the  ocean  at  a  cost  of  $150  an 
acre-foot.  Immediately  Los  Angeles  was  deluged  with  helpful 
suggestions,  both  from  engineers  and  from  well-meaning  ama- 
teurs. So  far  the  practical  aspects  remain  unsolved.  The  closest 
approach,  according  to  the  Los  Angeles  Water  Department,  was 


in  the  mind  of  an  unknown  young  man  with  a  German  accent 
who  walked  into  the  office  one  day  and  outlined  enough  of  his 
plan  to  arouse  serious  interest.  He  left  agreeing  to  come  back 
with  more  details,  but  the  water  seekers  have  waited  in  vain  for 
him  to  return. 

Meanwhile  the  Interior  Department  intends  to  strike  directly 
at  the  problem.  Congress  has  been  asked  for  an  appropriation  of 
$50,000,000  with  which  to  seek  out  a  practical  formula  and  then 
apply  it  in  a  "pilot  plant."  From  this  experimentation  the  high 
cost  of  distilling  sea  water  might  be  reduced  to  practical  dimen- 
sions. Certainly  the  prospect  of  atomic  fuel  within  the  next  few 
years  would  provide  the  key  to  one  of  the  epochal  advances  in 
man's  conquest  of  his  environment.  For  it  is  a  cheap  source  of 
fuel  and  heat  that  is  needed  to  make  a  final  denial  of  Coleridge's 
lament  in  The  Ancient  Manner: 

Water,  water,  everywhere, 
Nor  any  drop  to  drink. 

But  even  while  Western  water  users  have  talked  and  argued 
about  distilling  sea  water,  the  1948  drought  forced  a  real  use  of 
it  in  another  way.  On  the  thirsty  island  of  Santa  Catalina,  off 
the  Southern  California  coast,  the  resort  town  of  Avalon  pumped 
sea  water  for  sewage,  street  cleaning,  and  fire  protection.  Relieved 
from  supplying  these  heavy  uses,  the  island's  fresh-water  supply 
was  made  adequate  for  household  uses  of  drinking,  cooking,  and 
bathing.  It  left  room  for  the  notion  that  coastal  cities  could  cut 
their  consumption  of  fresh  water  by  using  salt  water  wherever 
possible.  Perhaps  it  would  require  two  separate  water  main  sys- 
tems, or  at  least  the  lining  of  sewer  pipes  with  a  non-corrosive 
substance.  The  process  would  be  expensive,  but  whether  more 
expensive  than  a  long-distance  aqueduct  would  at  least  be  worth 
investigation.  Here  was  a  use  of  sea  water  which  had  practical 
possibilities;  yet  it  could  only  supplement  the  fresh  water  still 
needed  for  household  faucets  and  most  industrial  uses. 

It  is  plain,  however,  that  not  even  distilled  sea  water,  because 
of  its  prohibitive  expense,  offers  hope  to  Western  agricultural 
users,  except  as  it  might  eliminate  the  competition  of  cities  for 
inland  supplies.  Across  much  of  the  Southwest  there  are  vast 
acreages  which  may  never  see  the  plow.  Existing  runoff  in  the 


Colorado  River  simply  cannot  supply  all  the  arable  land  in  its 
basin.  Even  if  Arizona  wins  her  fight  for  the  Bridge  Canyon 
project  there  will  be  at  least  1,000,000  acres  of  fertile  land 
within  its  boundaries  without  any  hope  of  cultivation.  West  of 
California's  Palo  Verde  district  lies  Chuckwalla  Valley,  where 
45,000  acres  could  be  irrigated  with  a  pump  lift  of  only  1 23  feet — 
much  less  than  that  of  Arizona's  Gila  project  and  about  one 
eighth  the  pump  height  of  its  Central  Plateau  scheme.  Cali- 
fornians  have  long  ago  condemned  it,  just  as  San  Diegans  have 
resigned  themselves  to  the  perpetual  disuse  of  280,000  acres  out 
of  their  county's  495,000  acres  of  fertile  land.  There  is  simply  not 
enough  water. 

Across  the  West  the  limitation  of  water  is  equally  pressing.  In 
the  San  Joaquin  Valley  of  California  farmers  depending  on  un- 
derground water  have  found  levels  dropping  an  average  of  sixty 
feet  in  the  past  twenty-five  years.  As  wells  are  sunk  deeper  the 
pumping  expense  inches  closer  to  the  break-even  point.  At 
Coalinga  the  wells  struck  salt  deposits  in  1948,  and  drinking 
water  for  the  town  had  to  be  delivered  forty-five  miles  by  tank 

In  the  Texas  Panhandle  the  number  of  wells  has  jumped  from 
300  to  10,000  since  1934,  and  the  water  table  has  dropped  more 
than  forty  feet.  Then  in  1947  a  local  crop  boom  caused  farmers 
to  pump  out  fifteen  times  as  much  water  as  normally  flowed  into 
the  ground,  driving  the  shortage  to  emergency  proportions.  Near 
Fort  Worth  one  oil  town's  water  supply  failed  completely,  and  a 
barrel  of  drinking  water  took  on  more  value  than  a  barrel  of  oil* 
Across  the  whole  state  dams  have  been  rushed  to  completion 
since  the  war  to  conserve  every  drop  of  moisture  that  falls  on  the 
thirsty  land. 

New  industrial  development  in  northern  Utah,  and  especially 
the  great  steel  mill  at  Geneva,  have  imposed  a  noticeable  burden 
on  that  state's  limited  water  resources.  In  Colorado  a  gigantic 
project  has  just  been  completed  to  carry  Colorado  River  water 
through  the  Continental  Divide  to  the  Big  Thompson  River, 
where  it  will  "rescue"  1000  square  miles  of  farmlands  which  have 
previously  suffered  from  an  unstable  supply.  But  in  the  western 
part  of  the  great  Missouri  basin — in  the  plains  regions  of  Wyo- 
ming and  Montana — there  seems  to  be  little  opportunity  to  make 

the  kind  of  diversions  which  would  relieve  long-standing  water 

On  the  lower  Colorado  the  growing  water  crisis  has  increased 
strife  between  Arizona  and  California,  driving  them  further  than 
ever  from  agreement.  But  in  other  areas  the  prospect  of  dimin- 
ishing supply  has  forced  warring  states  into  final  accord.  After 
years  of  dissension  Texas  and  New  Mexico  have  finally  concluded 
a  pact  on  the  waters  of  the  Pecos  River.  The  fifty-year  dispute 
between  Colorado  and  Kansas  over  the  Arkansas  River  is  now 
nearing  a  settlement.  Since  the  war  the  river's  yield  has  been 
strengthened  by  the  giant  new  John  Martin  Reservoir  in  south- 
eastern Colorado.  But  when  the  states  continued  to  quarrel  the 
Army  officer  in  charge  served  notice  that  unless  peace  was  re- 
stored he  would  open  the  gates  and  let  the  irrigation  water  run 
to  waste  downstream.  Since  then  the  states  have  found  they 
could  agree  on  temporary  divisions,  and  are  now  working  on  a 
permanent  compact. 

The  states  in  the  upper  basin  of  the  Colorado  have  largely 
reached  the  point  where  no  further  development  can  take  place 
without  big  new  government  irrigation  projects.  After  the  war 
the  Reclamation  Bureau  notified  them  that  it  could  sponsor  no 
more  water  developments  until  they  agreed  on  a  division  of  their 
share  of  the  Colorado.  They  lost  little  time  in  opening  negotia- 
tions ;  by  March  1 948,  after  repeated  conferences,  agreement  was 
reached.  By  its  terms  Colorado  is  to  get  51.75  per  cent  of  the 
river's  runoff,  Utah  23  per  cent,  Wyoming  14,  and  New  Mexico 
11.25.  Arizona,  which  has  a  small  stake  in  the  upper  basin,  re- 
ceives a  flat  50,000  acre-feet.  As  soon  as  Congress  ratifies  the 
compact  the  Reclamation  Bureau  will  be  ready  to  begin  surveys 
toward  a  $2,000,000,000  program  of  irrigation  and  power  proj- 
ects. If  found  feasible,  they  will  go  far  toward  changing  the  face 
of  the  Rocky  Mountain  region  and  the  economy  of  its  civili- 

But  the  plea  is  growing  among  conservation  men  that  it  will 
take  more  than  new  projects  to  win  man's  battle  against  the 
limitations  of  nature  in  the  arid  West.  A  century  of  shameful 
abuse  of  natural  resources  has  taken  toll  in  directions  other  than 
gutted  timberlands  and  slaughtered  game.  The  floods  which  are 
causing  a  tragic  loss  of  water  and  the  silting  of  reservoirs  have 


been  more  violent  in  recent  decades  because  of  man's  own  mis- 
takes. Across  the  mountains  of  the  West  the  forest  fires,  the  excess 
logging  operations,  the  costly  errors  in  plowing  and  overgrazing, 
have  robbed  the  land  of  the  protective  covering  it  has  built  up 
for  centuries  against  the  process  of  erosion.  When  the  rains  come 
in  such  despoiled  areas  they  no  longer  sink  into  the  earth  to  serve 
as  natural  storage;  instead  they  run  off  in  sharp  ravines,  carrying 
part  of  the  earth  with  them.  If  there  are  no  dams  on  the  rivers 
the  water  wastes  into  the  ocean;  if  there  are  dams  the  reservoirs 
become  silted  up  in  a  matter  of  years  and  the  water  wastes  any- 

The  most  startling  example  of  this  process  is  at  Hoover  Dam 
itself;  when  built  it  was  estimated  that  three  hundred  years  would 
elapse  before  Lake  Mead  would  be  filled  with  silt.  But  already 
the  sediment  is  laid  down  about  260  feet  deep  at  the  upper  end 
of  the  reservoir,  and  some  100  feet  at  the  dam.  At  this  rate  it  is 
tentatively  estimated  that  the  lake  will  become  useless  for  irriga- 
tion in  a  century.  Other  works  upstream,  from  Bridge  Canyon  to 
the  farthest  tributaries  in  the  upper  basin,  will  cut  down  this 
alarming  rate  of  sedimentation.  But  even  these  dams  must  even- 
tually be  threatened  by  silt  deposits  if  man  does  not  find  means 
of  controlling  erosion.  Certainly  engineers  are  realizing  that  the 
fight  against  water  shortage  in  the  arid  West  begins  with  con- 

East  of  the  Mississippi,  where  the  water  table  is  reported  to  be 
rising,  agriculture  has  as  yet  suffered  little  from  America's  grow- 
ing water  shortage.  But  there  are  localities  where  farmers  have 
turned  from  a  total  dependence  on  rain  water  and  have  taken  up 
the  great  Western  art  of  irrigation.  Already  the  press  of  popu- 
lation has  brought  the  first  signs  that  a  region  of  supposedly 
abundant  supply  will  eventually  be  forced  to  conserve  its  water 
•in  the  same  way  as  the  less  fortunate  West.  Growing  cities  are 
reaching  out  for  increased  water  supplies,  and  this  means  an 
inevitable  elbow  in  the  ribs  of  nearby  agriculture. 

Greater  industrialization  during  the  war  and  the  spread  of  air- 
conditioning  systems  have  been  the  main  burdens  on  Eastern 
water  systems.  In  Illinois  the  city  of  Peoria  and  the  suburbs  of 
Chicago  are  losing  their  underground  reserves  from  heavy  fac- 
tory pumping.  Throughout  the  Ohio  Valley  water  shortages  have 

been  occurring  for  years.  Louisville's  underground  levels  have 
sunk  forty  feet  in  the  past  ten  years,  while  at  Indianapolis  the 
table  is  down  as  much  as  fifty  feet. 

Even  in  the  semitropical  South  scattered  shortages  are  reported. 
The  water  level  is  dropping  at  Memphis,  and  in  Miami  the  with- 
drawal of  underground  water  was  causing  an  infiltration  of  sea 
water  until  pumping  practices  were  brought  under  control.  The 
same  basic  trouble  has  already  affected  some  Northern  cities 
such  as  Philadelphia,  whose  water  is  said  to  be  growing  steadily 
more  salty.  In  Baltimore  salt  began  to  appear  in  the  water  at  the 
beginning  of  the  war,  forcing  a  reduction  in  pumping  to  ease  the 
invasion  of  the  sea. 

But  it  was  in  the  fall  of  1949  that  the  industrial  Northeast 
got  its  taste  of  a  real  water  famine.  Two  years  of  subnormal  rain- 
fall had  made  city  engineers  uneasy  over  lowered  reservoir  levels. 
Actual  drought  began  in  June,  eased  up  in  August  and  Septem- 
ber, then  struck  hard  with  roughly  half  the  normal  rainfall  during 
October  and  November.  Late  in  October  New  York's  water 
officials  took  the  first  emergency  steps.  Public  drinking  fountains 
were  turned  off,  street  flushing  was  stopped,  citizens  were  asked 
to  conserve  water  and  repair  leaky  faucets. 

By  early  December  New  York  City,  northern  New  Jersey,  and 
parts  of  New  England  found  themselves  in  the  midst  of  a 
desperate  water  crisis.  Already  one  Jersey  town  had  drained  its 
supply.  While  drillers  rushed  to  deepen  its  wells,  trucks  were 
hauling  in  water  to  fill  the  bathtubs,  buckets,  and  every  con- 
ceivable receptacle  which  anxious  householders  had  lined  along 
the  streets.  With  schools  closed,  factories  shut  down,  and  domestic 
heaters  turned  off,  the  citizens  were  finding  what  it  meant  to  have 
their  water  system  fail.  By  December  8,  with  water  famine  sweep- 
ing across  New  Jersey,  the  governor  proclaimed  a  state  of 
emergency  and  ordered  strict  water  conservation. 

At  the  same  time  the  shadow  of  disaster  loomed  as  New  York 
City's  own  reservoir  levels  dropped  to  a  third  of  normal  capacity. 
With  scarcely  87,000,000,000  gallons  remaining,  the  supply  was 
dwindling  at  the  rate  of  1,000,000,000  gallons  a  day.  At  25,000,- 
000,000  there  would  be  no  pressure  for  the  water  taps.  New 
York's  alarmed  water  commissioner,  Stephen  J.  Carney,  warned 
that  unless  consumption  was  reduced  by  200,000,000  gallons  a 


— roughly  twenty  per  cent — water  pressure  would  begin  to 
fade  by  January  i.  Across  the  Big  Town  some  8,000,000  people 
abruptly  understood  that  only  sixty-two  days  separated  them 
from  absolute  thirst. 

It  had  taken  more  than  drought  to  bring  New  York  to  this 
predicament.  World  War  II  had  interrupted  work  on  her  famed 
Delaware  Project,  designed  to  supplement  her  existing  aqueducts 
to  the  Croton  and  Catskill  watersheds.  Originally  authorized  in 
1928,  the  new  program  would  tap  two  tributaries  of  the  Delaware 
and  one  of  the  Hudson.  After  a  bitter  court  battle  with  New 
Jersey  over  the  water  of  the  Delaware  River,  New  York  was 
limited  to  440,000,000  gallons  daily  from  that  basin.  It  would 
have  been  enough  for  present-day  growth,  however,  if  the  war  had 
not  intervened.  Although  an  emergency  aqueduct  from  the  proj- 
ect is  being  used  now,  the  program  will  not  be  completed  until 
1956.  By  that  time,  the  engineers  estimate,  New  York  will  have 
grown  enough  to  use  almost  every  gallon  of  the  new  supply.  In- 
stead of  keeping  one  jump  ahead  of  itself,  as  a  city  must  ordi- 
narily do  in  its  water  planning,  New  York  now  finds  itself  one 
jump  behind. 

Thus  drought,  the  scourge  of  the  West,  had  caught  the  world's 
biggest  city  off  guard.  By  early  December  Commissioner  Carney 
and  his  water  officials  were  hurrying  to  increase  the  city's  supply 
by  reopening  water  wells  on  Long  Island.  At  the  same  time  con- 
sumption would  have  to  be  slashed  by  drastic  conservation. 
Washing  of  locomotives  was  halted  at  the  railroad  stations.  The 
auto-washing  business  was  outlawed.  Stiffer  fines  were  levied  on 
householders  for  neglecting  to  repair  leaky  faucets,  and  "water 
wardens"  were  sent  through  the  boroughs  checking  on  violators. 

New  Yorkers,  exhorted  to  save  water  by  the  press,  radio,  and 
pulpit,  responded  heartily.  Water  consumption  dropped  by  nearly 
100,000,000  gallons  a  day — over  ten  per  cent.  But  it  was  not 
enough  to  prevent  New  York's  reservoirs  from  sinking  nearer  to 
exhaustion.  By  Sunday,  December  n,  New  York  churchgoers 
were  praying  for  rain.  A  few  days  later  they  were  observing  a 
"bathless  Friday,"  when  they  were  asked  to  drink  one  less  glass  of 
water,  and  a  man's  beard  was  "a  badge  of  honor."  Still  the 
reservoirs  continued  to  ebb;  within  a  few  days  flagrant  water 
wasters  were  being  fined  up  to  $100. 

"Our  water  supply,"  announced  one  judge,  "is  so  critically  low 
that  drastic  punishment  of  wasters  is  demanded  and  second 
offenders  will  probably  get  straight  prison  sentences." 

Then  on  December  27  came  the  first  break  in  the  crisis.  It 
rained.  Two  thirds  of  an  inch  fell  in  New  York,  one  and  a  half 
inches  in  New  Jersey.  For  the  first  time  in  months  New  York's 
reservoirs  rose  in  depth,  gaining  four  precious  days'  supply.  After 
that  the  city  was  over  the  hump  of  the  critical  stage,  but  the 
days  that  separated  it  from  water  famine  could  still  be  numbered. 
Through  January,  with  scattered  showers  and  some  successful 
"Thirsty  Thursdays,"  New  York  found  its  reservoir  levels  making 
dogged  progress.  The  water  scare  was  over,  but  Commissioner 
Carney  and  his  officials  knew  the  emergency  was  still  severe. 

For  several  weeks  the  whole  nation  had  turned  its  eyes  on  New 
York's  ordeal.  Cartoons  and  editorials  on  both  coasts  had 
compared  the  Big  Town's  water  crisis  with  that  of  the  South- 
west. One  of  California's  congressmen  even  took  the  opportunity 
to  point  a  moral  for  New  Yorkers:  they  should  now  be  able  to 
understand  why  Southern  California  cities  fought  desperately 
for  their  water  supplies.  It  was  plain  that  the  water  shortage  had 
suddenly  grown  to  be  a  national  problem. 

Nobody  could  deny,  however,  that  while  New  York  had 
dramatized  the  issue  for  Americans  it  was  in  the  Southwest  that 
the  shortage  had  made  its  first  permanent  invasion.  As  a  last 
resort  New  York  still  had  its  murky  Hudson,  but  the  water  holes 
at  the  opposite  corner  of  the  nation  have  long  been  fenced  and 

Near  some  of  them  the  ancient  ruins  of  the  cliff  dwellers  and  the 
Hohokam  stand  as  imperishable  monuments  to  former  droughts 
when  the  region's  slim  water  resources  failed  almost  completely. 
They  offer  little  alarm  to  a  modern  Southwestern  society  based 
on  one  of  the  most  elaborate  water  developments  in  the  world. 
Yet  it  has  been  said  that  this  same  society — however  advanced 
it  may  be — has  an  air  of  impermanence  fostered  by  its  utter 
dependence  on  water. 

Probably  man  is  too  ingenious  now  to  be  caught  by  a  disastrous 
drought,  but  several  times  in  the  past  half  century  his  South- 
western cities  have  been  perilously  close  to  thirst.  Without  a 


permanent  solution  to  the  water  problem,  would  he  be  prepared 
for  the  kind  of  twenty-three-year  drought  that  drove  out  a 
former  civilization?  One  thing  is  certain:  in  arid  lands  man's 
progress  has  been  no  faster  than  his  ability  to  meet  his  water 
needs.  In  the  Southwest  of  America  the  foreseeable  future  must 
be  founded  on  far  more  ingenious  water  developments  than  the 
remarkable  projects  its  people  have  already  seen. 


Bibliography  and  Acknowledgments 

The  following  sources,  listed  informally,  have  been  the  most  help- 
ful in  the  quest  of  information  for  this  book.  For  the  sake  of 
brevity,  little  mention  is  made  of  those  standard  works,  en- 
gineering reports,  and  magazine  articles  which  are  readily  found 
through  most  library  catalogues  and  reader's  guides.  It  should  be 
remembered  that,  since  participants  on  both  sides  of  controversies 
have  been  consulted,  no  one  of  them  is  accountable  for  observa- 
tions or  conclusions. 

Details  on  William  Mulholland  and  early  Los  Angeles  water 
history  were  gleaned  from  an  article  on  Mulholland  by  J.  B. 
Lippincott  in  Civil  Engineering,  February  and  March  1941; 
Irrigation  in  Southern  California,  William  H.  Hall  (Sacramento, 
1888),  which  is  part  of  a  water  resources  report  of  the  state  en- 
gineer; and  interviews  with  Thomas  Brooks,  a  Los  Angeles  water 
official  for  over  fifty  years  (Los  Angeles,  December  6,  1948) ;  S.  B. 
Robinson,  identified  with  the  Water  Department's  legal  affairs 
since  1906  (Los  Angeles,  February  24,  1949) ;  Burt  Heinley, 
Mulholland's  secretary  from  1907  to  1919  (Los  Angeles,  May  31, 
1949)  ;  and  Miss  Rose  Mulholland,  daughter  of  William  Mul- 
holland, who  also  allowed  the  use  of  a  scrapbook  on  her  father's 
career  (Los  Angeles,  March  i,  1949). 

Information  on  the  inception  of  the  Los  Angeles  Aqueduct  was 
gained  from  the  Report  of  the  Aqueduct  Investigating  Board, 
Los  Angeles,  August  30,  1912,  which  contains  testimony  of  Mul- 
holland, W.  B.  Mathews,  J.  B.  Lippincott,  and  others  (in  the 


Los  Angeles  Public  Library) ;  from  "Owens  Valley  correspond- 
ence" in  the  files  of  the  Los  Angeles  Department  of  Water  and 
Power,  which  was  made  available  through  the  courtesy  of 
J.  Gregg  Layne,  department  historian;  from  a  seven-volume 
scrapbook  of  newspaper  clippings  on  the  aqueduct,  1905-7,  with 
the  Department  of  Water  and  Power;  from  a  pamphlet  by 
Andreas  B.  Nordskog,  Communication  to  the  California  Legis- 
lature relating  to  the  Owens  Valley  Water  Situation  (Sacramento, 
I93I)j  which  contains  quotations  from  Reclamation  Service 
correspondence,  1904-6;  from  documents  in  the  Los  Angeles 
County  records,  including  instruments  on  the  Porter  Ranch  sale 
(option,  October  13,  1903,  and  deed,  January  13,  1905)  ;  from 
files  of  the  Inyo  Register,  1903-13  (microfilms  at  the  Henry  E. 
Huntington  Library,  San  Marino)  ;  Inyo  Independent,  1904—8 
(at  Southwest  Museum,  Pasadena)  ;  Los  Angeles  Times,  July- 
September  1905,  June  and  December  1906,  April-June  1907; 
Examiner,  July— September  1905;  Express,  July— September  1905; 
Evening  News,  March-April,  June  1906,  March-June  1907  (all 
in  Los  Angeles  Public  Library)  ;  from  a  letter  from  J.  G.  Clausen, 
engineer  in  charge  of  the  federal  Owens  Valley  reclamation 
investigation,  1903-5  (Aromas,  California,  February  19,  1949) ; 
from  interviews  with  Harry  J.  Lelande,  Los  Angeles  city  clerk, 
1903-10  (Los  Angeles,  February  23,  1949) ;  and  with  Fred 
Eaton's  sons — Harold  Eaton  (Bishop,  August  21,  1948)  and 
Burdick  Eaton  (Los  Angeles,  December  3,  1948). 

Material  on  Los  Angeles  Aqueduct  construction  was  drawn 
from  the  following:  the  Mulholland  scrapbook;  the  Final  Report 
of  Construction  of  the  Los  Angeles  Aqueduct,  Los  Angeles,  1916; 
Mulholland's  Annual  Reports  to  the  Aqueduct  Advisory  Com- 
mittee, 1907-12  (in  the  Los  Angeles  Public  Library) ;  Minutes  of 
the  Advisory  Committee  of  the  Los  Angeles  Aqueduct,  1906-13 
(now  with  the  Board  of  Public  Works)  ;  files  of  the  Los  Angeles 
Times,  May  1910,  November-December  1911;  Los  Angeles 
Record,  May  1912;  and  interviews  with  H.  A.  Van  Norman, 
superintendent  of  the  Owens  Valley  Division,  and  later  chief 
engineer  of  the  Department  of  Water  and  Power  (Los  Angeles, 
December  31,  1948)  ;  D.  L.  Reaburn,  superintendent  of  the 
Saugus  Division  (Los  Angeles,  May  9,  1949)  ;  and  George  Nor- 
denholt,  tunnel  foreman  at  Sand  Canyon  (Los  Angeles,  May  5, 


The  Owens  Valley  conflict  was  largely  written  from  these 
sources:  "Owens  Valley  correspondence,"  1923-26,  Department 


of  Water  and  Power,  including  the  useful  "Proposal  for  Settle- 
ment with  Owens  Valley,"  submitted  with  accompanying  data  to 
the  Los  Angeles  Clearing  House  Association,  November  19,  1924, 
by  W.  W.  Watterson,  and  the  "Reply  to  Proposal"  submitted  by 
the  Board  of  Public  Service  Commissioners,  1924;  report  of  W. 
F.  McClure,  state  engineer,  concerning  the  Owens  Valley-Los 
Angeles  Controversy,  Sacramento,  1925  (in  Huntington  Library) ; 
Story  of  Inyo,  2d  ed.,  W.  A.  Chalfant  (Bishop,  1933) ;  com- 
pilations of  school  and  voting  registration  statistics,  Inyo  County, 
for  which  I  am  grateful  to  Mrs.  Dorothy  Craven,  superintendent 
of  schools,  and  Mrs.  Fay  Lawrence,  county  clerk;  files  of  the 
Owens  Valley  Herald,  1921-27;  Inyo  Register,  1923-28;  Big 
Pine  Citizen,  1923-27;  Mount  Whitney  Observer  (Lone  Pine), 
1924—27,  all  of  which  were  used  through  the  kindness  of  Miss 
Anne  Margrave,  Inyo  County  librarian;  selected  issues  of  the  Los 
Angeles  Times,  1923-28;  Examiner,  1924-27;  Record,  1924-27; 
San  Fernando  Sun,  1923-24;  and  the  following  interviews: 
Jerome  Watterson,  son  of  W.  W.  Watterson  (Bishop,  August  25, 
1948) ;  Walter  Young,  friend  and  associate  of  the  Watterson 
brothers  (Bishop,  August  25,  1948) ;  Charles  Collins,  Inyo 
County  sheriff  in  the  19205  (Bishop,  August  21,  1948);  Ed 
Shepherd,  former  Inyo  County  deputy  sheriff  (Independence, 
August  22,  1948) ;  Mrs.  Frank  Butler  (Bishop,  August  21,  1948) ; 
Ward  Parcher  (Bishop,  May  22,  1949) ;  William  D.  Dehy,  judge 
of  Superior  Court,  Inyo  County,  1909  to  present  (Independence, 
May  22,  1949) ;  H.  A.  Van  Norman  (Los  Angeles,  December  13, 
1948) ;  S.  B.  Robinson  (Los  Angeles,  February  24,  1949) ; 
Edward  F.  Leahey,  Los  Angeles  representative  in  Owens  Valley 
during  the  19205  (Los  Angeles,  July  n,  1948,  and  February  24, 
1949) ;  Alfred  Watterson,  son  of  George  Watterson  (Los  Angeles, 
August  10,  1948) ;  Leicester  C.  Hall  (Glendale,  May  29,  1949) ; 
George  Warren,  who  also  provided  a  signed  statement,  dated 
July  19,  1927,  describing  the  siege  of  his  home  a  few  months 
before  (Los  Angeles,  May  29,  1949) ;  and  Jackson  Berger,  As- 
sociated Press  correspondent  covering  Owens  Valley  incidents 
in  the  19205  (North  Hollywood,  June  8,  1949). 

Sources  on  the  San  Francisquito  Dam  failure  include  various 
engineering  reports,  particularly  the  Report  of  the  Commission 
appointed  by  Governor  C.  C.  Young  to  Investigate  Causes  Lead- 
ing to  Failure  of  St.  Francis  Dam  (Sacramento,  1928)  and  San 
Francisquito  Canyon  Dam  Disaster — report  to  Governor  G.  W.  P. 
Hunt  of  Arizona  by  Guy  L.  Jones  (Phoenix,  1928) ;  also  the  ex- 


tensive  material  in  the  Huntington  Library  collected  by  C.  C. 
Teague,  head  of  the  Santa  Clara  Valley  Citizens  Relief  Com- 
mittee; the  Mulholland  scrapbook;  the  article  by  Lippincott  in 
Civil  Engineering;  and  news  stories  in  the  Santa  Paula  Chronicle 
(March  13,  1928),  Fillmore  Herald  (March  16,  1928),  Fillmore 
American  (March  15,  22,  1928),  and  Los  Angeles  Times  (March 
14  and  22,  1928) — all  in  Los  Angeles  Public  Library. 

Details  on  the  settlement  of  Imperial  Valley  and  the  fight 
to  stop  the  Colorado  flood  of  1 905-7  were  mainly  gathered  from 
the  following:  hearings  before  the  House  Committee  on  Irriga- 
tion of  Arid  Lands,  March  21,  1904,  on  a  bill  for  legalizing  the 
appropriation  and  diversion  of  water  from  the  Colorado  River 
for  irrigation  purposes  (in  the  Huntington  Library)  ;  article  by 
Charles  Rockwood  in  the  Calexico  Chronicle,  May  1909  (also  in 
the  Huntington  Library) ;  various  hearings  before  the  House  Ju- 
diciary Committee,  1907— 1 1,  on  a  bill  for  reimbursing  the  South- 
ern Pacific  Railroad  for  expenditures  in  stopping  the  Colorado 
flood  (for  the  use  of  this  and  other  material  in  the  very  exten- 
sive "water"  collection  at  the  Claremont  Colleges  Library,  I  am 
indebted  to  Dr.  Willis  Kerr) ;  Life  of  George  Chaff ey,  J.  A. 
Alexander  (Melbourne,  1928)  ;  Salton  Sea,  George  Kennan 
(New  York,  1917);  Colorado  Conquest,  David  O.  Woodbury 
(New  York,  1941);  selected  issues  of  the  Los  Angeles  Times, 
1905—7;  Examiner,  November— December  1906;  Express,  Novem- 
ber—December 1906;  and,  most  important  of  all,  an  interview 
with  Dr.  H.  T.  Cory,  engineer  in  charge  of  closing  the  Colorado 
break,  1906-7  (Los  Angeles,  June  27,  1949),  together  with  the 
seven  volumes  of  photographs  which  he  gave  to  the  University 
of  California  at  Los  Angeles  Library,  and  his  exhaustive  work  on 
the  subject,  The  Imperial  Valley  and  the  Salton  Sink  (San 
Francisco,  1915). 

The  story  of  the  Colorado  Compact  and  the  Boulder  Canyon 
Project  was  largely  pieced  together  from  these  sources:  corre- 
spondence and  other  material  collected  by  John  R.  Haynes, 
former  chairman  of  the  Los  Angeles  Board  of  Public  Service 
Commissioners,  contained  in  the  John  R.  Haynes  Memorial 
Foundation  Library,  Los  Angeles;  a  scrapbook  on  Boulder  Can- 
yon Project  development  in  the  Department  of  Water  and  Power 
Library;  microfilm  minutes  of  the  first  eighteen  meetings  of  the 
Colorado  River  Commission,  January-November  1922,  obtained 
from  the  National  Archives,  Washington,  D.C.;  typewritten 
minutes  of  the  twenty-sixth  meeting,  at  Claremont  Colleges 

Library;  an  article  by  Arnold  Kruckman  in  the  Los  Angeles  mag- 
azine, Saturday  Night  (November  18,  1922)  ;  correspondence, 
minutes,  and  publications  of  the  Boulder  Dam  Association,  1923- 
28,  in  the  care  of  Mrs.  Burdett  Moody,  Los  Angeles;  hearings 
before  the  Senate  and  House  Irrigation  and  Reclamation  com- 
mittees, 1919-28,  on  protection  and  development  of  the  lower 
Colorado  River  basin,  of  which  the  most  helpful  were  those  be- 
fore the  House  committee,  Sixth-eighth  Congress,  First  Session, 
1924,  and  the  Senate  committee,  Sixty-ninth  Congress,  First 
Session,  1925-26  (almost  complete  collections  of  hearings  are  in 
the  Department  of  Water  and  Power  Library  and  the  Claremont 
Colleges  Library) ;  the  Congressional  Record,  February  1927, 
April-May,  December  1928;  Problems  of  Imperial  Valley  and 
Vicinity  (Senate  Document  142,  U.  S.  Printing  Office,  1922)  ; 
Hoover  Dam  Documents,  Ray  Lyman  Wilbur  and  Northcutt  Ely, 
(U.  S.  Printing  Office,  1948)  ;  Colorado  River  Compact,  Reuel 
L.  Olson  (Los  Angeles,  1926)  ;  an  extensive  file  of  Los  Angeles 
and  Phoenix  newspaper  clippings  of  the  19205,  in  the  Claremont 
Colleges  Library;  a  scrapbook  of  Boulder  Canyon  Project  clip- 
pings, 1926—31,  at  the  University  of  Southern  California  Library; 
selected  issues  of  the  Los  Angeles  Times  and  Examiner,  1920—22; 
a  letter  from  Charles  P.  Squires,  joint  commissioner  from  Nevada 
on  the  1922  Colorado  River  Commission  (Las  Vegas,  April  14, 
I95°)  >  and  finally  from  interviews  with  Senator  William  J.  Carr, 
who  was  chief  counsel  for  the  Boulder  Dam  Association  (Pasa- 
dena, September  24,  1949) ;  H.  C.  Gardett,  former  Los  Angeles 
Department  of  Water  and  Power  official  (South  Pasadena,  Oc- 
tober i,  1949)  ;  and  an  especially  valuable  four-hour  talk  with 
Phil  D.  Swing,  co-author  of  the  Boulder  Canyon  Project  Act 
(San  Diego,  November  6,  1949). 

Construction  of  the  Boulder  Canyon  Project  features  is  well 
covered  in  the  Construction  of  Hoover  Dam,  Ray  Lyman  Wilbur 
and  Elwood  Mead  (U.  S.  Printing  Office,  1935) ;  So  Boulder 
Dam  Was  Built,  George  A.  Pettitt  (Berkeley,  1935),  which 
was  published  by  Six  Companies  for  political  purposes,  but 
which  is  invaluable  for  detailed  episodes;  various  publications 
of  the  Metropolitan  Water  District,  including  History  and  First 
Annual  Report,  June  30,  1938  (Los  Angeles,  1939),  The  Colo- 
rado Aqueduct  (Los  Angeles,  1939),  and  The  Great  Aqueduct 
(Los  Angeles,  1941)  ;  the  special  Colorado  Aqueduct  edition  of 
Engineering  News-Record,  November  24,  1938;  the  scrapbook  on 
Boulder  Canyon  Project  development  in  the  Department  of 


Water  and  Power  Library;  and  the  large  file  of  newspaper  clip- 
pings on  the  same  subject  in  the  Glaremont  Colleges  Library. 
Best  coverage  of  the  "Arizona  Navy"  incident  is  in  Chester 
Hanson's  dispatches  to  the  Los  Angeles  Times,  March  and 
November  1934. 

Information  on  the  Mexican  treaty  was  gained  largely  from 
the  following:  hearings  before  the  Senate  Committee  on  Foreign 
Relations,  Seventy-ninth  Congress,  First  Session  (Water  Treaty 
with  Mexico,  1945) ;  a  bound  compilation  of  Arguments,  Memo- 
randa and  Information  by  Opponents  and  Proponents  of  Treaty, 
Department  of  Water  and  Power  (Los  Angeles,  1945) ;  the  Con- 
gressional Record,  April  1945;  interviews  with  S.  B.  Robinson, 
former  member  of  the  Committee  of  Sixteen  (San  Marino, 
October  i,  1949) ;  and  Arvin  Shaw,  assistant  attorney  general  of 
California,  who  also  made  available  the  Proceedings  of  the  Com- 
mittee of  Sixteen  at  the  crucial  meeting  in  Santa  Fe,  April  14-16, 
1943  (Los  Angeles,  December  19,  1949). 

The  present  California- Arizona  controversy  and  the  existing 
status  of  water  development  in  the  Southwest  may  be  traced  in 
these  congressional  hearings:  Reauthorizing  the  Gila  Project, 
House  Committee  on  Irrigation  and  Reclamation,  Seventy- 
ninth  Congress,  Second  Session,  1946;  Bridge  Canyon  Project, 
Senate  Subcommittee  on  Irrigation  and  Reclamation,  Eightieth 
Congress,  First  Session,  1947;  and  others  on  Colorado  River 
Water  Rights  and  the  Central  Arizona  Project,  1948-49,  which 
offer  an  exhaustive  treatment  of  both  sides  of  the  dispute,  and 
which  are  available  in  most  university  libraries.  Other  infor- 
mation was  gained  from  files  of  the  Los  Angeles  Times,  1948-50; 
from  material  kindly  furnished  by  the  San  Diego  Water  Authority 
and  the  Santa  Barbara  City  Water  Department;  from  a  com- 
prehensive letter  from  Charles  A.  Carson,  chief  counsel  for  the 
Arizona  Interstate  Streams  Commission  (Washington,  D.C., 
February  18,  1950) ;  and  from  interviews  with  Don  Kinsey,  chief 
of  public  relations  for  the  Metropolitan  Water  District;  Robert 
Lee,  public  relations  secretary  for  the  California  Colorado  River 
Association;  and  Gilbert  Nelson,  attorney  for  the  California 
Colorado  River  Board  (all  in  Los  Angeles,  December  19,  1949). 

For  the  use  of  photographs  I  am  indebted  to  the  Los  Angeles 
Department  of  Water  and  Power,  Los  Angeles  Public  Library, 
UCLA  Library,  Ingersoll-Rand  Company,  and  the  Colorado 
River  Association. 

Lastly  I  want  to  thank  my  wife,  Margaret,  for  invaluable  help 
in  research  over  a  two-year  period. 


Ainsworth,  Ed,  279 
Alabama  Gates,  85ff.,  99,  107 
Alamo  River,  143,  148,  153 
All-American  Canal,    17 iff.,    177, 

I95-9^y    J99>   20I>   24off.,   250, 

269,  274-75 

Arizona  ground  water  code,  260 
Arizona  Navy,  2341!. 
Arkansas  River,  290 
Arrowhead  Lake,  10 
Arrowrock  Dam,  230 
Ashurst,  Henry,  202,  2o8ff.,  2145. 

Bacon,  John  L.,  195-96 
Baltimore  Sun,  253 
Bank  of  America,  101—2,  114 
Bannister,   L.   Ward,    1781!.,   207, 


Beaudry,  Prudent,  14-15 
Bee  River,  168,  170 
Big  Bear  Lake,  9 
Big  Pine  Citizen,  74,  85 
Big  Thompson  River,  289 
Bill  Williams  River,  142,  2335. 
Bishop  Creek  Ditch,  70,  95 
Blythe,  Samuel,  136 
Bonneville  Dam,  283 
Boom  of  the  eighties,  12-13,  15 


Boom  of  the  twenties,  94 

Boulder  Canyon  Project  Act,  217, 

219,  230,  241,  246,  258,  262ff. 
Boulder  Dam.  See  Hoover  Dam 
Boulder  Dam  Association,  196, 

198,  205,  211 
Brand,  L.  C.,  33, 37 
Bridge   Canyon   Dam,    192,    261, 

266,  278 

Brooks,  Thomas,  1 6,  34 
Burkholder,  J.  L.,  270-71 
Bush,  Joe,  234,  236 
Bush,  Nellie,  234 

Cachuma  Dam,  268 

California  Development  Company, 

i4ifL,  145-46,  i48ff.,  155,  161, 

1 68 
California    Limitation    Act,    217, 

228,  262ff. 

Cameron,  Ralph,  2o8ff. 
Carney,  Stephen  J.,  2g2ff. 
Carpenter,  Delph,  175-76,  I78ff., 

1850.,  189,  206,  264 
Carrillo,  Jack,  154,  156,  i62ff. 
Carson,  Charles  A.,  263-64 
Catskill  Aqueduct,  5 

Central  Arizona  Project,  26 iff., 
273ff.,  289 

Central  Arizona  Project  Associa- 
tion, 281 

Central  Valley  Project,  280 

Chaff ey,  Andrew,  14 iff. 

Chaffey,  George,  8-9,  139,  i4iff., 

Chalfant,  Willie  A.,  30,  36,  39, 
76,99,  no-ii,  126,  133-34 

Chandler,  Harry,  67,  171-72,  194, 
200,  205,  208,  246 

Chapman,  Oscar,  278 

Citizens  Colorado  River  Commit- 
tee, 229 

Clarke,  C.  K.,  162-63,  165 

Clausen,  J.  C.,  22,  28 

Cliff  dwellers,  3-4,  294 

Clinton,  De  Witt,  4 

Clover,  Samuel  T.,  4off. 

Cocopah  Indians,  140 

Collins,  Charles,  77-78,  81,  856% 

90,  92-93 
Colorado    Aqueduct,    199,    228ff., 

Colorado    River,    5,    13,    18,    94, 

I37ff.,  1 86  et  passim 
Colorado  River  Association,  280 
Colorado  River  Board,  274 
Colorado  River  Commission,  176, 

iSoff.,  iSsff. 
Colorado  River  Compact,   i76ff., 

1855.,  198  et  passim,  247,  257- 

58,  262ff. 

Colorado  River  League,  178 
Columbia  River,  282-83 
Committee  of  Fourteen,  247!!. 
Connally,  Tom,  253-54 
Coolidge,  Calvin,   121,   146,   197, 


Coolidge  Dam,  259,  260 
Cory,  Harry  T.,  1555.,  223 
Croton  Aqueduct,  4—5 
Crowe,  Frank  T.,  2igff. 
Crowley,  John  J.,  132-33 
Crowley  Lake,  133 


Cryer,  George,  122 
Curtis,  Charles,  214 
Cuyamaca  Dam,  13 

Davis,  Arthur  P.,  12,  31,  173,  177, 

179-80,  193,  200,  227 
Dawes,  Charles,  210,  214 
Dehy,  William  D.,  87,  1  12 
Delaware  Project,  293 
Delaware  River,  293 
Dodson,  "One-Eyed,"  73 
Douglas,  Lewis,  212-13 
Downey,    Sheridan,    252ff.,    278, 

280,  286 
Drought,  3,  7ff.,  n,  i8ff.,  34,  66, 

68,  72,  79,  94,   126,   128,   169, 

197-98,  244,  259-60,  266ff.,  287, 


Earl,  Edwin  T.,  32-33,  40,  60 
Eaton,   Fred,    18-19,    2  iff.,    28ff., 
63-64,     66-67,     IIO>     126-27, 

Eaton,  Harold,  26,  29,  66,  no 
Eaton  Land  and  Cattle  Company, 


Edinger,  F.  S.,  150 
Eel  River,  283 
Eisenhower,  D  wight,  285 
Elephant  Butte  Dam,  174 
Elizabeth  Tunnel,  45,  47-48,  52- 

53,  59-6o,  237 
Emerson,  Frank,  205 
Evans,  Sam  C.,  196,  211 

Fall,  Albert  B.,  177-78 
Fall-Davis  Report,  177,  181,  186 
Finney  Resolution,  205-6 
First  National  Bank  of  Bishop,  68 
Flint,  Frank  P.,  356". 
Floods,    6-7,    13-14,    ii7ff.,    140, 
i47ff.,  184,  212,  222-23,  290-91 
Forest  Service,  U.  S.,  38 

Gardner,  Ed,  267 

Garner,  John  N.,  212-13,  241 

Garvey,  Dan  E.,  279-80 
Geological  Survey,  U.  S.,  11,  173, 


Gibraltar  Dam,  267-68 
Gila  Project,  262-63,  265-66,  289 
Gila  River,  140,  147-48,  150,  157, 

159-60,  iGsff.,  169,  1 86,  189-90, 

194,  203,  208,  258-59,  262ff. 
Glasscock,  Carl  B.,  76 
Glasscock,  Harry,  76,  81-82,  85, 

87,  g6ff.,  103,  105,  107-8,  no, 


Glasscock,  Mrs.  Harry,  88 
Glen  Canyon  Dam,  261 
Grand  Coulee  Dam,  282 
Granite  Reef  Dam,  260 
Grant,  Heber  J.,  215 
Gray,  John,  47-48 
Green  River,  138 
Gunnison  River,  138 

Haiwee  Dam,  56,  97,  106 
Hall,  Leicester  C.,  70,  75,  77-78 
Hansen,  A.  C.,  49-50 
Harding,  Warren  G.,  180 
Harper,  A.  C.,  40-41,  43 
Harriman,    Edward    H.,    148-49, 

151-52,  i6iff.,  167 
Harriman,  Job,  42-43,  55 
Hatfield,  George  M.,  13,  285-86 
Hayden,    Carl,    183,    212,    2141!., 

241-42,  246,  276ff.,  281 
Haynes,  John  R.,  196 
Hearst,  William  Randolph,  29,  34, 

80,  196,  211 
Heber,  Anthony  H.,  141,  145-46, 


Hession,  Jess,  81,91,  112,  114 
Hetch  Hetchy  Aqueduct,  6 
Highline  Canal,  i92ff.,  258,  260 
Hind,  Tom,  157,  159-60,  162 
Hitchcock,  Ethan  A.,  36-37 
Hohokam  Indians,  3-4,  294 
Hoover,    Herbert,     i8ofL,     iSsff., 

200,  205,  217-18 
Hoover     (Boulder)     Dam,     173, 

175!*.,  187,  189,  194  et  passim, 


235,  239,  241,  244fL,  253,  273- 

74,  291 

Howard,  James,  263 
Hudson  River,  293-94 
Hull,  Cordell,  248 
Hunt,  George  W.  P.,  191-92,  203- 

Huntington,  Henry  E.,  21,  33 

Ickes,  Harold,  2351!.,  241 
Imperial    Canal,    143,    146,    148, 

150,  1  66,  171,243,245 
Imperial  Dam,  243,  262 
Imperial  and  Gulf  Railroad,  143 
Imperial  Irrigation  District,  i68ff., 

201,  205,  241-42,  244,  275 

Imperial  Press,  142-43 

Industrial  Workers  of  the  World, 

International  Boundary  Commis- 

sion, 248 
Inyo  County  Bank,  26,  68-69,  IOI~ 

2,  105,  1  1  iff. 
Inyo  Independent,  39,  74 
Inyo  Register,  31,  39,  76,  99,  110- 

11,  126,  134 
Ivins,  Anthony  W.,  215,  217 

Jawbone  siphon,  56ff. 
Johnson,   Hiram,    184,    196,    199, 
201-2,  2056%  214,  216-17,  242, 

Julia  B.,  234ff. 

Kaiser,  Henry  J.,  219 
Kansas  vs.  Colorado,  175 
Keough,  Karl,  76,  83,  85-86,  88, 

95,99,  103 

Kerr,  Robert  S.,  278-79 
Kincaid  Act,  177 
King,  William  H.,  206,  2i4ff. 
Kings  River,  18 
Klamath  River,  283 
Knowland,  William,  280 
Krick,  Irving,  285-86 
Krug,  Julius,  275,  277 
Ku  Klux  Klan,  76-77,  79,  97 

Laguna  Dam,  138,  171 

La  Rue,  E.  G.,  aooff. 

League  of  the  Southwest,  175-76, 

Leahey,  Edward  F.,  79,  82,  86-87, 

g6ff.,  101-2,  104-5,  no,  129 
Leatherwood,  Elmer  O.,  207,  211- 


Lee  Ferry,  186,  255 
Lelande,  Harry  J.,  27-28 
Lippincott,  Joseph  B.,  22,  25,  28ff., 
39,  42ff.,  50,  52,  58,  62,  83,  145, 


Little  Bear  Project,  9-10 
Little  Colorado  River,  200,  221- 

Long  Valley  Dam,  63!!.,  73,  131, 


Los  Angeles  (Owens  River)  Aque- 
duct, 23ff.,  31,  39ff.,  7ifL,  81, 
85*?.,  i05ff.,  115,  127,  181,  197- 
98,  229,  237,  270,  272,  282 

Los  Angeles  Chamber  of  Com- 
merce, 41,  45-46,  50,  83,  205 

Los  Angeles  City  Water  Company, 
i5ff.,  20 

Los  Angeles  Clearing  House  Asso- 
ciation, 89,  9 iff. 

Los  Angeles  Daily  News,  284 

Los  Angeles  Department  of  Water 
and  Power,  17,  25,  31,  65,  70- 
71,  74-75,  79,  87,  92,  94,  97  et 
passim,  177-78,  W>  205,  229, 

Los  Angeles  Evening  News,  4off. 

Los  Angeles  Examiner,  29,  32,  34, 


Los  Angeles  Express,  32,  60,  89 
Los  Angeles  Herald,  81 
Los    Angeles    vs.    Pomeroy    and 

Hooker,  19 

Los  Angeles  Record,  83,  89,  109 
Los  Angeles  River,  8,  14,  i8ff.,  29, 

34,40,42,61,  68 
Los  Angeles  Times,  28ff.,  32,  40, 

41,  55,  60,  67,  81,  89,   107-8, 

in,    161,    171,    192,    196,   205, 
208,  233-34,  279-80 

Mathews,  William  B.,  23-24,  26- 
27,  35-36,  44,  50,  55,  64-65, 
72ff.,  83,  85ff.,  90,  94,  97,  101, 
106,  1 10,  177,  179,  185,  187-88, 
196,  217,  249 

Mathews,  Lake,  230,  239 

Matthew,  Raymond,  274 

Maxwell,  George  H.,  n,  192-93, 
!95»  203,  258,  260 

Mayo,  Morrow,  127 

McClure,  Wilbur  F.,  93,  181,  185- 
86,  1 88 

McFarland,    Ernest    W.,    254-55, 

262,  274ff.,  281 
McKellar,  Kenneth,  276 
McNally  Ditch,  70-71,  75 ff.,  80 
McNamara  brothers,  55 
Mead,  Elwood,  218,  220,  246 
Mead  Lake,  227,  291 
Metropolitan  Water  District,  198- 

99,  228ff.,  233-34,  236,  238ff., 
252,  261,  263,  269,  27iff.,  282 
Mexican    Water    Treaty,    2456% 

263,  272,  276 

Millikin,  Eugene,  253-54,  273 

Mix,  Tom,  88 

Moeur,  B.  B.,  232-33,  235-36 

Moffat  Tunnel,  5 

Mojave  River,  9 

Mono  Craters  Tunnel,  132 

Mono  Lake,  22,  132 

Morena  Reservoir,  13 

Mulholland,  Rose,  124,  131 

Mulholland,  William,  i5ff.,  28, 
33ff,  39, 42ff,  58ff,  67-68,  79ff., 
86,  94,  106,  116-17,  *  2  iff., 
i29ff.,  177,  193,  197-98,  229fL, 

Mulholland,  Mrs.  William,  61,  63 

Mulholland  Dam,  1 23 

Murdock,  John  R.,  262,  264,  276 

National  Reclamation  Act,  u, 
144,  192 

National  Reclamation  Association, 

192,  195 
Nellie  T.,  234 
New  River,  152,  154,  161 
New  York  Post,  253 
New  York  Times,  218 
No  Name  siphon,  105-6,  108 
Nordskog,  A.  B.,  109 
North  Platte  River,  1 74 
Norviel,  Winfield  S.,  181,  186-87, 

"People's  Investigating  Board,"  55, 


Phillips,  John,  264 
Phipps,  Lawrence,  209,  216 
Pima  Indians,  274 
Pinchot,  Gifford,  37,  38 
Platt,  H.  V,  154 
Platte  River,  5 
Pomeroy,  F.  I.,  233fT. 
Porter,  George  K.,  33 
Powell,  John  Wesley,  138,  173 

Ockerson  levee,  168 

Osborn,  Sidney  P.,  257-58,   260, 

Otis,   Harrison   Gray,   32-33,   37, 

40-41,  60,  67 
Owens  Lake,  19,  23-24,  91,  107, 

Owens  River,  18,  22ff.,  28ff.,  61, 

66-67,  7off.,  83,  85,  87,  94,  101, 

115-16,  127,  isiff. 
Owens  River  and  Big  Pine  Canal, 

70-7I.  75-76,  80 
Owens  River  Canal,  70,  76,  95- 

96,98,  104,  125 
Owens  Valley  Herald,  76,  82,  85, 

98,  105,  113 
Owens  Valley  Irrigation  District, 

70,   72,    75-76,   84-85,   89,  92, 

95.  * '3 

Owens  Valley  Property  Owners 
Protective  Association,  100,  102, 

Pace,  Frank,  Jr.,  277 

Pacific  Electric  Railway,  21,  149 

Pacific  Light  and  Power  Com- 
pany, 39 

Pacific  Southwest  Trust  and  Sav- 
ings Bank,  130 

Paiute  Indians,  18 

Palmer,  Harlan  J.,  1 25 

Parker  Dam,  2326%  261 

Pathfinder  Dam,  1 74 

Pecos  River,  290 


Rain  making,  13,  14,  284!!. 
Randolph,    Epes,    149*1".,    i55~56> 

158-59,  161,  164,  166 
Reclamation     Service     (Bureau), 

U.  S.,  ii-i2,  21-22,  25,  28,  30- 

3i,  35.  i38-39»  H5.  ^ff.,  i77> 

181,  202,  218  et  passim,  26off., 

268-69,  274-75,  283,  290 
Red  Rock  Tunnel,  49 
Reparations  law,  96 
Richardson,  Friend  W.,  90-91,  93 
Rickey,  Thomas  B.,  24,  26 
Rio  Grande,  174,  212,  248,  251- 


Robinson,  S.  B.,  87-88 
Rockwood,  Charles,  139!!.,  144*!., 

i55ff.,  161,  1 66,  i68ff.,  243 
Rockwood  head  gate,  150,  156!!. 
Rogue  River,  284 
Roosevelt,  Franklin  D.,  227,  241- 

42,  248,  269 
Roosevelt,   Theodore,    11-12,   30, 

36ff.,  162-63,  167 
Roosevelt  Dam,  12,  259 
Rose,  H.  H.,  63 
Rose,  Mark,  17 iff.,  177,  179,  185, 

187-88,  191,  205,  242,  244,  249, 


Sacramento  Union,  100 
St.  Francis  Dam,  n6ff. 
St.  Vallier,  156 
Salt  Lake  Railroad,  1 64 

Salton  Sea,  148,  152,  155,  161-62, 


Salt  River,  11-12,  140,  192,  259 
Salt   River   Valley   Water   Users 

Association,  12 

San  Carlos  project,  200,  259-60 
Sand  Canyon  siphon,  59—60 
San  Diego  Aqueduct,  26gff. 
San  Diego  County  Water  Author- 

ity, 249,  270-71 
San  Diego  River,  12 
San  Fernando  Mission  Land  Com- 

pany, 33,  40-41 
San  Francisco  Call,  80 
San  Francisco  Chronicle,  108 
San  Gabriel  River,  8,  40 
San  Jacinto  Tunnel,  230-31,  2376% 


Santa  Ana  River,  8-9,  273 
Santa     Barbara     County     Water 

Agency,  268 

Santa  Clara  River,  116,  u8ff. 
Santa  Fe  Railroad,  164,  198,  224 
Santa  Ynez  River,  267-68 
Scattergood,  E.  F.,  177,  197,  249 
Searchlight,  156,  160-61,  163,  166 
Sea  water,  distillation,  287-88 
Seven    Party    Water    Agreement, 

228,  275 

Sexton,  Perry,  105,  107,  116 
Shaw,  Arvin,  249—50 
Sherman,  Moses  H.,  33 
Six  Companies,  Inc.,  2i8ff.,  227, 

Six-state  Compact,  204ff.,  217 
Smith,  Sylvester  C.,  35ff. 
Smoot,  Reed,  207,  214-15!!. 
Soil  Report  of  1902,  144,  275 
Southern  California  Edison  Com- 

pany, 1  1  8,  177 
Southern  Pacific  Railroad,  48,  107, 

121,  i42ff.,  1486%  159,  161-62, 

164,  1  66,  243 
Southern  Sierras  Power  Company, 

37,  131.  177 
Stone,  Clifford  H.,  250 


Swing,  Phil,  172-73,  177, 

183-84,  193,  196,  igSff.,  207-8, 
2 1  iff.,  2i5ff.,  24off.,  244ff.,  249 

Swing- Johnson  bill,  183!?.,  ig6ff. 

Symons,  William,  70,  77 

Taft,  William  Howard,  39,  167- 

Tammany  Hall,  213 

Teague,  Charles  C.,  121-22 

Tecolote  Tunnel,  268 

Title  Guarantee  and  Trust  Com- 
pany, 33 

Trinity  River,  283 

Truman,  Harry,  277 

Tuolumne  River,  6 

Twain,  Mark,  200,  284 

Umpqua  River,  284 

Uncompahgre  River,  138 

Union  Pacific  Railroad,  156,  197, 

215,  220 
Upper  Basin  Compact,  290 

Van  Norman,  Harvey  A.,  53,  56ff., 
72ff.,  83,  85,  94,  98,  1 06,  117, 
122-23,  :33 

Van  Norman,  Mrs.  Harvey  A.,  58 

Ventura  River,  266 

Virgin  River,  140,  200,  221-22 

Volcano  Lake,  150,  161,  168,  184 

Wallace,  Lew,  190 
Warren,  Earl,  265-66,  281 
Warren,  George,  72ff.,  78,  iO2ff. 
Watterson,  Alfred,  77 
Watterson,  Eliza,  69 
Watterson,  George,  69-70,  77,  102 
Watterson,  Mark  Q.,  26,  68ff.,  76- 

77,  85-86,  95-96,  98-99,  101-2, 

105,  107,  logff.,  129-30 
Watterson,  Wilfred  W.,  a6ff.,  36, 

68ff.,   83fL,   8gfL,  95-96,  g8ff., 

105,  107,  logff.,  129-30 
Watterson,  William,  69 

Wells  Fargo  Bank,  1 1 1  Wright  Act,  10-1 1 

Western    Federation    of    Miners,  Wyoming   vs.    Colorado,    175-76, 

53-54  l83>  185 
Weymouth,     Frank,     202,     2306% 

237ff.  Yakima  project,  139 

"Whistling  Dick,"  57-58  Young,  G.  C.,  109 

Wilbur,  Ray  Lyman,  218,  2  20  Young,  Walter,  95,  102-3,  1 12 

Woods,  Will  C.,  1 02,  no,  112  Yuma    Water   Users   Association, 

Wozencraft,  Oliver,  140  169 


Los  Angeles  gets  first 
Owens  River  Water,  1913 

'   Ranchers  dynamite 
aqueduct,  1927 

St.  Francis  Dam  fails,  1 928 

Concreting  at 
Hoover  Dam,  1 934 

Drought  intensifies 
Colorado  controversy,  1 948 

San  Francisco  fights  Colorado  flood,  1906